A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies

in partial fulfillment of the requirements

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Graduate Programme in English

York University

North York, Ontario

December 1997

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a dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies of

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O 1998

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'Pata~hssics: The Poetics of an Imaainarv Science is a

survey that attempts to describe a hypothetic philosophpthe

avant-garde pseudo-science imagined by Alfred Jarry.

'Pataphysics is a supplement to metaphysics, accenting it,

then replacing it, in order to create a philosophic

alternative, whose discipline can study cases, not of

conception, but of exception: variance (anomalos), alliance

(syzuaia), and deviance (clinamen). 'Pataphysics

synthesizes the romantic schism between a literal,

scientized discourse and a figural, poeticized discourse,

and my thesis suggests that this revision of the signifier

"science" by 'pataphysics is symptomatic of a postrnodern

transition in science from a paradigm of absolutism to a

paralogy of relativism.

Structured as a descriptive

explication, which emphasizes a theoretical perspective,

this survey is divided into five chapters:

the first

chapter recounts the history of the conflict between science

and poetry (in order to contextualize 'pataphysics within

the metaphysical philosophies of the past); the second

chapter examines the avant-garde pseudo-science of

'pataphysics itself (in order to contextualize 'pataphysics

within the anti-metaphysical meta-philosophies of the

present); and finally, the last three chapters discuss the

influence of 'pataphysics upon the poetics of its subsequent

successors (first, the Italian Futurists; second, the French

Oulipians; and third, the Canadian "Pataphysicians). While

mg thesis focuses upon theories of textual poetics rather

than poetry itself (relyLng upon the kind of Nietzschean

sophistries that have come to characterize postmodern

philosophy), my thesis does nevertheless çtrive to be as

conceptually encyclopedic as 'pataphysics itself:


of normalizing 'pataphysics within one theoretical

perspective, this survey alludes intermittently to

'pataphysical enterprises that constitute exceptions to such

a genealogy of Jarryites. What is at stake is the status of

poetry in a world of science.

How might poetry reclaim its

own viable truth How might science benefit from its own

poetic irony For the postmodern condition, such questions

have already opened up a novel space for speculative

imagination; hence, this survey presents itself as a kind of

primer for a future of possible reseerch.


The Museum of Jurassic Technolo~s in Los Angeles is a

strange gallery, where incredible verities integrate so

perfectly with believable untruths that a visitor mas not

detect the peculiar slippage from fact to hoax.

Wilson, the

curator, has rebuilt the Wunderkammern of medieval archives,

presenting cabinets and vitrines, full of bizarre curiosa--


not only of Msotis lucifuaus (a bat whose sonar-

system can be modulated to create apertures through

substantive barriers), but of Meaaloponera foetens (an ant

whose nerve-system can be controlled by fungal parasites for

replicative purposes).

Wilson does not simply repeat the

grotesque spectacle of Ripley, since the museum does not

present the truth of the absurd with the command:


it or not!--instead,

the museum presents the truth as itself

absurd with the question:

what is it to believe or not

Weschler observes that "Wilson has[ ...]p itched his

museum at the very intersection of the premodern and the

postmodern" (go), inserting the visitor into the interstice

between wondering-at and wondering-whetherl--a

gap into

which this survey wishes to insert its own reader.


Wilson calls "Jurassic technology," we might cal1 "Jarryite

'pataphysicsW--a science of imaginary solutions, in which

the critic wishes not only to study, but also t o evoke,

cases of exceptional singularity. Like Jarry (who wilfully

occupies an ambiguous interzone between ratiocination and

hallucination), Wilson hopes to imbricate the technical

truth of modern science with the medieval magic of poetic

wisdom. This survey, likewise, strives to indulge in such a

figura1 project, since it too proposes the potential

existence of a, heretofore chimerical, science.

'Pataphysics represents a supplement to metaphysics,

accenting it, then replacing it, in order to create a

philosophic alternative to rationalism. What Wilson has

performed, Jarry has predicted: the disappearance of

scientificity itself when reason is pushed to its own

logical extreme. Such a 'pataphysical qualification of

rational validity is symptomatic of a postmodern transition

in science frorn absolutism to relativism, When even time

itself fades away into spectacular uncertainty, the very

idea that an historical technology might be called

"jurassic" no longer seems wholly absurd (since we can now

imagine a futuristic apocalypse, in which cloning might

allow a human tu coexist with a resurrected tyrannosaur--

just as cinema has cloned the image of an actual thespian

and spliced it with the image of an unreal sauropod). 2

'Pataphysics is speculative, waiting for its chance to

happen, as if by accident, in a themepark of scientific


conception. Like the museum of Wilson, this thesis on Jarry

attempts to scramble the jurassic sequence of history so

that what is extinct in the past can be called forth again

out of its context into the present where the idea of the

past itself can in turn be made e ~tinct.~ For 'pataphysics,

any science sufficiently retarded in progress must seem

magical (but only after the fact), just as any science

sufficiently advanced in progress must seem magical (but

only before the fact)--and if 'pataphysics is itself

thaumaturgic, it is so, not because of any ironic nostalgia

for a prehistoric past, but only because of its oneiric

prognosis for an ahistoric future. We see science itself

vanish before the zero-degree of its own anti-science.

Structured as a descriptive explication, which

emphasizes a theoretical perspective, this survey argues

that Jarry has provided an often neglected, but still

important, influence upon the poetic legacy of this century

(particularly the Italian Futurists, the French Oulipians,

and the Canadian "Pataphysicians) . Wbile my thes is focuses

upon theories of textual poetics rather than poetry itself

(relying upon the kind of Nietzschean sophistries that have

corne to characterize the work of such French rebels as

Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Serres, et al.), my thesis

does nevertheless strive to be as conceptually encyclopedic

as 'pataphysics itself: instead of normalizing 'pataphysics

within one thecretical perspective, this survey alludes

intermittently to 'pataphysical enterprises that constitute

exceptions to such a genealogy of Jarryites.

Recounting the transition from 'pataphysics to

"pataphysics (from the single apostrophe of France to the

double apostrophe of Canada), this survey reflects the

influence of Jarry upon my own poetic career (in particular:

my 'pataphysical encyclopedia, ~r~stalloara~hu). Inspired

by the etymology of the word "crystallography," such a work

represents an act of lucid writinq, which uses the language

of geological science to misread the poetics of rhetorical

language. Such lucid writing is not concerned with the

transparent transmission of a message (so that, ironically,

the poetry is often "opaque");' instead, lucid writing is

simply concerned with the exploratory reflexivity of its own

pattern (in a manner reminiscent of lucid dreaminq). The

capricious philosophg of 'pataphysics is itself an oneiric

science aware of its own status as a dream.

'Pataphysics reveals that science is not as "lucid" as

once thought, since science must often ignore the arbitrary,

if not whimsical, status of its own axioms. Like the work

of some 'pataphysicians (particularly the Oulipians), who

make a spectacle of such epistemic formality by writing

texts according to an absurd, but strict, rule of machinic

artifice, this survey also expresses its own extreme of

nomic rigor ( in this case, grammatical parallelism ) : each

sentence develops a chiastic symmetry as balanced as the

contrast in physics between meta and pata. The arbitrary

character of such a constraint does not simply constitute a

stylistic frivolity, but strives 'pataphysically (if not

allegorically) to dramatize a scientific perversion: that

the universe is itself an arbitrary formality, whose rules

have created a science that can in turn discuss such rules.

'Pataphysics valorizes the exception to each rule in

order to subvert the procrustean constraints of science.

While this survey may do little to change the mind of a

customary scientist (who must ignore the 'pataphysical

peculiarity of science itself in order to avoid the charge

of crackpot delusion), my survey may nevertheless convince

poets to qualify their own ludditic attitude toward science.

Such poets might recognize that, if poetry cannot oppose

science by becoming its antonyrnic extreme, perhaps poetry

can oppose science by becoming its hyperbolic extrerne, using

reason aqainst itself 'pataphysically in order to subvert

not only pedantic theories of noetic truth, but also

romantic theories of poetic genius.

Such poets might learn

to embrace the absurd nature of sophistic reasoning in order

to dispute the power of both the real and the true.

Vaneigem, however, warns us that, because of this

sophistry, "Joe Soap intellectuals, [']pataphysicians[ ...fibandwagon

after bandwagon works out its own version of the

credo quia absurdum est: you [do notJ believe in it, but

you do it anyway" (178) so that, as a result, "[ 'plataphysics[

...] leads us with many a twist and turn to the last

graveyards" (126). While such charges of nihilistic

conformism do apply to the work of some 'pataphysicians

(particularly Sandomir and Shattuck), such misgivings do not

take into account that, like Nietzsche, Jarry does

radicalize philosophy, lampooning pedagogic authority, in

order to foment a spirit of permanent rebellion, be it anti-

bourgeois or anti-philistine.'

My thesis argues that this

apparent strategy of "indifference" in 'pataphysics merely

serves to satirize the impartiality of sciexe itself.

'Pataphysics refuses to conform to any academic

standard: hence, this survey cannot demonstrate that it has

learned the lessons of its topic without also negotiating a

virtually untenable ambiguity between the noetic mandate of

scholarship and the poetic license of 'pataphysics itself.

Since no literary history has ever traced in detail the

unorthodox genealogy of this avant-garde pseudo-science, 1

hope that my survey might in effect offer a Wunderkammern of

literary teratism, cataloguing the scientific exceptions to

the given noms of poetry in order to create an absurd

museum of " jurassic" machines.

Just as the anachronism of

an iron tool from before the Ice Age might disrupt our sense

of temporal security, so also might such an archive of

anomaly recontextualize the given canon of modern poetry.

Let us imagine a future for such an impossible philosophy.


Notes to Preface

l~eschler observes that , because the M~otis

lucifuaus is a hoax, while the Meaaloponera foetens is a

fact, "[tlhe Jurassic infects its visitor with doubts--

little curlicues of misgiving--that proceed to infest

all[ ...] other dealings with the Culturally Sacrosanct" (40).

2~he Jurassic Park of Crichton, for example,

dramatizes a 'pataphysical domain, in which a science of

operative risks (chaotic mathematics) indicts a science of

irnperative tasks (genetic engineering) for practising

"thintelligence' (284)--a

clever truth with wanton power.

'~urassic technology demolishes the rnernory of the

museum so that the museum can no longer function properly as

a mausoleum for what has otherwise been forgotten:


we do not remember what exists in the past so much as

remember that the past itself does not exist.

- '~r~stallo~ra~hy strives to achieve a state of

"birefrigence," offering two perspectives at the same time

from the focal point of a single lens, if not from the acute

angle of a poetic word:

in other words, lucid writing does

not transmit so much as diffract a given meaning.


'vaneigeln must admit that , when active rather than

passive, such nihilism does evoke revolutionary sensibilities:

"Nietzsche's[ ...] ironyL.1, Jarry's Umour[ ...]--

these are some of the impulses[ ...] investing human con-

sciousness with[ . . . ]a true reversa1 of perspective" ( 177 ) .




iv - v

vi - xiv

Science and Poetry:

The Poetics of the Ur in 'Pataphysics

Millenial 'Pataphysics:

The Poetics of an Imaginary Science

Italian Futurism:

A 'Pataphysics of Machinic Exception

French Oulipianism:

A 'Pataphysics of Mathetic Exception

Canadian " Pataphysics :

A 'Pataphysics of Mnemonic Exception

Texts Cited


Science and Poetrs:

The Differend of the Ur in 'Pata~hvsics

nNon cum vacaveris, ~atavhssicandum est."

(Jarry 1965:39)

"[TJhe encyclopaedia said:

For one of these

pnostics, the visible universe was aQ

illusion or (more ~recisels) a sophism."

(Borges 1983: 8)

"The debt that ['Ipataphysics owes to sophism

cannot be overstated." (Bernstein 1994:105)


Borges in Tlh, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius imagines an

allegory about the seductions of simulation.

A secret cabal

of rebel artists has conspired to replace the actual world,

piece by piece, with a virtual world, so that the inertia of

a true history vanishes, phase by phase, into the amnesia of

a false memory.

The irony is that this conspiracy meets

with no resistance:

lq[a]lmost immediately, reality yielded

on more than one account" for "[tlhe truth is that it longed

to yield" (1983:22)--to disappear into its own phantasms.

Al1 things embrace the weirdness of this astonishing event

and ignore the piousness of al1 admonishing truth. The

event foments a revolution in philosophy--a shift away from

the nomic study of what is veritable to a ludic study of

what is possible, as if "every philosophy is by definition a

dialectical game, a Philosophie des Als Ob" (14).

Borges imagines a reality where to imagine a reality

can cause a reality to exist ex nihilo. Each memory of an

object conjures the miracle of an hdn, the replica of a

replica; and yet, " [s] tranger and more pure than any hrh

is, at times, the u" (an ectype without prototype), "the

object produced through suggestion, educed by hope"

(1983: 18) .' Like the tihistas who believe that

"metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature" ( 14), the

narrator of this fantasy pretends to believe in such an

imaginary philosophy, quoting fictitious references to it in

gazettes and treatises. His alternative to metaphysics is

itself an ur because his dream of it has indeed corne true,

not only in his story but also in our world. We too fulfill

this apocalyptic conspiracy by creating, for ourselves, a

world where fantasy has more reality than reality itself.

Postmodernism in fact defines itself in terms of such a


Philosophy has everywhere begun to threaten

the constraints of both the real and the true in order to

practice an anti-philosophp-what Jarry might call by the

name of '~ataahssics, the science of imaginary solutions and

arbitrary exceptions (1965:192).

Jarry suggests through

'pataphysics that reality does not exist, except as the

interpretive projection of a phenomenal perspective-which

is to say that reality is never as it is, but is always es

if it is. Reality is quasi, pseudo:

it is more virtual

than actual; it is real only to the degree to which it can

seem to be real and only for so long as it can be made to

stay real.

Science for such a reality has increasingly

become what Vaihinger might call a "philosophy of as if"

(xvii), wilfully mistaking possibilities for veritabilities.

Baudrillard observes that, for the "[']Pataphysics of

the year 2000," history has accelerated past the escape

velocity for reality, moving from the centrifuga1 gravity of

the real into the centripetal celerity of the void

(1994a:l). Events occur in the nullspace of simulation,

where "[al11 metaphysical tension has been disaipated,

yielding- a 'pataphysical ambiancet' (1990: 71 ) . Things

succumb to relativity, complexity, and uncertainty, shifting

from an absolute state of determinism to a dissolute field

of indeterminism.

The science of 'pataphysics responds to

these sbsurdities with a genre of science fiction that shows

science itself to be a fiction.

It nsrrates not what is,

ut what miaht have become.

It inhabits the tense of the

future perfect, of the post modo--a

paradoxical temporality,

in which what has yet to happen has already taken place.

The U r of Science

Jarry claims that 'pataphysics studies "the universe

supplementary to this one," but not simply an adjunct

reality s o much as an ersatz reality, "a universe which can

bel ...] envisaged in the place of the traditional one"

1965:131) Such a supplement is always more substitutive

than augmentative, replacing reality instead of accent ing

reality, and ironically the science that studies auch a

supplement is itself a supplement.

It is "the science of

that which is superinduced upon metaphysicsl' as both an

excess and a redress, "extending as far beyond metaphysics

as the latter extends beyond physics" ( 131 ) . An auxiliary

substitute that compensates for a lack in philosophy even as

it impregnates the form of philosophy, such a science

simulates knowledge , perpetrating a hoax, really and truly ,

but only to reveal the hoax of both the real and the true.

Jarry performs humorously on behalf of literature what

Nietzsche performs seriously on behalf of philosophy.


thinkers in effect attempt to dream up a gay science, whose


joie de vivre thrives wherever the tyranny of truth has

increased our esteem for the lie and wherever the tyranny of

reason has increased our esteem for the mad.

Both thinkers

lay the groundwork for an anti-philosophy, whose spirit of

ref orm bas corne to characterize such alternatives to

metaphysics as the grammatology of Derrida, the

schizanalysis of Deleuze, or the homeorrhetics of Serres.

Al1 such anti-metaphysical meta-philosophies argue that

anomalies extrinsic to a system remain secretly intrinsic to

such a system. The most credible of truths always evolves

£rom the most incredible of errors.

The praxis of science

always involves the parspraxis of poetry.

'Pataphysics, "the science of the particular" (131),

does not, therefore, study the rules governing the general

recurrence of a periodic incident (the ex~ected case) so

much as study the garnes governing the special occurrence of

a sporadic accident (the excepted case).

'Pataphysics not

only studies exception, but has itself become an exception--

dismissed and neglected despite its influence and relevance .

Jarry has not only inspired the absurdity of nearly every

modern avant-garde, but has also predicted the absurdity of

nearly al1 modern techno-science.

No history, however, has

ever traced in detail this unorthodox genealogy, even though

contemporary philosophy has begun to shift its emphasis from


the metaphysical to the anti-metaphysical-a

trend that only

a few critics (Dufresne, McCaffery, etc.) have dared to

describe as 'pataphysical in nature.

'Pataphysics bas ultimately determined the horizon of

thought for any encounter between philosophy and literature,

but criticism has lasgely ignored this important principle

of the postmodern condition. What irony: 'pataphysics has

replaced metaphysics so slowly and subtly that, once

noticed, the transition seems at once sudden and abrupt.

This survey therefore intends to redress the surprise of

such smnesia by revising the history of both science and

poetry in order to bring 'pataphysics to bear upon

'pataphysics itself.

Such revision, of course, faces

obstacles, not the least of which is the fact that

'pataphysics is imaginary. No such discipline exists. What

then is there to study What museums can house its relies

What codexes can record its axioms

Such a science may be

no more than an =--a

last hope that has yet to corne true.

'Pataphysics does not pretend to unify its parts into a

system or to ratify its ploys into an agenda.

Such a cesual

science has no theory, no method (even though Jarry has

since inspired writers to create the College of

'Pataphysics, aspects of which allude to a fictional



archive, the Grand Academy of Lagado). Such a casual

science also has no manual, no primer (even though Jarry has

since inspired critics to study the Elements of

'Pataphysics, excerpts of which appear in a fictional

almanac, the Exploits of Doctor Faustroll). Like the

abridged treatise on Tlb, the incomplete handbook of Jarry

compels its readers to finish the job of converting the fake

image of a virtual science into a real thing in the actual

universe. Even this survey may not explain the existence of

'pataphysics so much as conjure 'pataphysics into existence.

Jarry implies that such a science can be written only

with an invisible ink, "sulphate of quinine," whose words

remain unseen until read in the dark under the "infrared

rays of a spectrum whose other colors [are] locked in an

opaque box" (191-192).

Such a science cannot be seen except

under a light that cannot be seen in a place that cannot be


Such a science exists paradoxically in an eigenstate

of indeterminate potentiality (like the cat of Schrodinger--

both there and not there at the same time).

Not philosophy,

but philosophastry, such a science at first appears

scandalous and superfluous because it delights in the

eclectic and the esoteric. It encourages a promiscuous

economy of indiscriminate exchanges, playfully conjugating

paradoxes in order to make possible an absolute expenditure

of thought without any absolute investiture in thought.

'Pataphysics thus heralds apocalyptically what

Baudrillard calls a "casual form of writing to match the

casual &&ementialitg

of our ageW--a spiralling commentary

upon "the Grande Gidouille of History" (1994e:17). This

survey attempts to practice such a writing of history in the

belief that theory must explore as much as it must explain.

To do otherwise is to reduce the science of 'pataphysics to

another species of hermeneutics:

just a way to resd, not a

way to live.

To write against metaphysics, with its good

sense and its good taste, is not to shirk the duties of the

critic, but to wager their values against the demand for

change. If we are to take 'pataphysics seriously, are we

not obliged to be exceptional If this survey threatens to

meander, is this not because it imitates the vortices of a

pidouille in order to maintain an element of surprise

Surprise breaks the promise of the expected: it is the

exception that disturbs the suspense of what we know must

happen next.

Hence, this survey offers the following

itinerary about things to corne in the hope that we might

later be surprised by the unexpected.

This survey begins by

tracing the history of the conflict between science and

poetry in order to contextualize 'pataphysics within the

four phases of such dispute (the animatismic, the

mechanismic, the oraanismic, and the cvborganismicl. The

survey then discusses 'pataphysics itself, defining three

declensions of exception (the anomalos, the syzsaia, and the

clinamen), in order to show the diverse parallels not only

between the work of Jarry and Nietzsche, but also to relate

such work to the diverse projects of such contemporary

philosophers as Baudrillard, Derrida, Deleuze, and Serres.

Subsequently, the survey traces the influence of Jarry

on three cases of avant-garde pseudo-science (the Italian

Futurists, the French Oulipians, and the Canadian

"Pataphysicians). Each movement revises a prior schema

about the structure of exception in order to disrupt the

norrnalization of the 'pataphysical: for the Futurists,

exception results from the collision of machines; for the

Oulipians, exception results from the constraint of

programs; and for the "Pataphysicians, exception results

from the corruption of mernories.

Like these movements, this

survey also tries to avoid the normalization of the

'pataphysical, doing so by alluding intermittently to

'pataphysical enterprises that do not refer to the tradition

of Jarry, but nevertheless represent some of the exceptions

to the genealogy that this survey posits.

Exceptions, after all, can resort to an assortment of



variance (anomalos), alliance (sszvgia), or

deviance (clinamen). The anomalos finds a way to differ

from every other thing in a system that values the norm of

equivalence; the svzsaia finds a way to equate things to

each other in a system that values the norm of difference;

and the clinamen finds a way to to detour around things in a

system that values the fate of contrivance.

Al1 three modes

of exception do inform this survey on 'pataphysics so that,

if its style risks everything to disrupt, to confuse, and to

digress, it does so not for any lack of forma1 rigour, but

for the sake of a crucial thesis. Can a ludic theory of

'pataphysics be fairly judged by the nomic values of

metaphysics if 'pataphysics criticizes metaphysics itself

Are we not obliged to consider the problem of this question

' Pataphysics , strangely enough, has two parallel

histories that act out opposite strategies for criticizing

such a scientific metaphysics: first, the irrationalism of

the Symbolists, the Dadaists, and the Surrealists (al1 of

whom argue for a poetic emancipation from science); second,

the surrationalism of the Futurists, the Oulipians, and the

"Pataphysicians (al1 of whom argue for a poetic

appropriation of science).

Jarry has influenced both

strategies despite their opposition.

The Futurists attack

the Symbolists, for example, just as the Oulipians attack

the Surrealists. Both cases of conflict pit the pragmatic

formalism of postrnodernity against the aesthetic mysticism

of rnodernity. What is at stake is the status of poetry in a

world of science. How rnight poetry reclaim its own viable

truth Hou might science benefit from its own poetic irony

Surrationalism, for example, responds to such questions

not only by using the forms of poetry to criticize the myths

of science (its pedantic theories of expressive truth), but

also by using the forms of science to criticize the myths of

poetry (its romantic theories of expressive genius).

Surrationalism has accented this conflict between science

and poetry in three different ways.

The Futurists inflect

the machinic intensities of technological forms; the

Oulipians inflect the mathetic intensities of numerological

forms; and the "Pataphysicians inflect the mnemonic

intensities of palaeological forms. This survey focuses

largely upon these three surrational movements not only

because -they have better expressed the original intentions

of 'pataphysics, but also because they have received less

critical attention from theoreticians.

Surrationalism is thus just as exceptional as it is

'pataphysical, defining a regime for the avant-garde, not

only in poetry, but also in science.

Bachelard suggests

that al1 scientific radicalisrn begins with "an e~oche, a

placing of reality between parentheses" (28) so that science

might systematically explore an otherwise impossible


"it is in this area of dialectical

surrationalism that the scientific mind dreams" (32). Every

question about what if leads to a science of as if.


longer limited by one case of nature, science can propose

many modes of reason:

for example, the non-Euclidean

geometry of Riemann or the non-Boolean algebra of Korzybski.

We see science interrogate itself in order to relativize


It can no longer take its reality for granted, but

must account for its history:

the reason of its reason.

Baudrillard suggests that, while metaphysics is the

anti of simulation (opposing fantasy with ever more

reality), 'pataphysics is the ante of simulation (opposing

fantasy with ever more fantasy) : "only a 1 ' l~ata~hvsics of

simulacra can remove us £rom the[. ..lstrategy of simulation

and the impasse of death in which it imprisons us," and

"[t]his supreme ruse of the system[. ..], only a superior

ruse can stop" (1994b:153-154).

Metaphysics is a supreme

ruse because it makes us believe in the true; 'pataphysics

is a superior ruse because it lets us pretend to be untrue.

Truth implodes upon itself and reveals an aporia at its


centre--the "[dlead point[ ...] where every system crosses

this subtle limit of[ .,.] contradiction [....]and enters live

into non-contradictionw--the ecstasy of thought:


begins a ['lpataphysics of systems" (1990:14).

The Ur of Historv


with a swerve.

let us digress for a moment; let us begin

Ubu, the "Professor of ['lpataphysics,"

steps on stage at the turn of the century in order to

announce "a branch of science which we have invented and for

which a crying need is generally experienced" (1965:26-27).

An imaginary science thus makes its debut in a millenary

instant, appearing at the transition from a romantic era to

a modernist era, when metaphysics has totalized, but not yet

optimized, its power to speak the truth.

If poetry has

failed to oppose science by being its antonymic extreme,

then perhaps poetry c m attempt to oppose science by being

its hyperbolic extreme.

An absurd science that might

dissect contradictions, has itself enacted contradictions.

It has simultaneously affirmed and negated, not only its

belief in, but also its doubts about, the values of reason.

Science has historically legitimated itself by

practicing a contemvtus historia.

Theories in the past that

differ from theories in the present must forfeit their


History becomes nothing more than what Canguilhem

might cal1 le ~assdk~sssd ( 27 ) , a museum of error, where

time can cause any concept to becorne as quaint as a

metaphor .2

Whenever science deigns to think its history, it

narrates a transition from the falsity of poetry to the

verity of science, even though history sees science, not as

the progress to truth, but as the congress of truth--a

quorum of dispute, where the right to speak the truth is

itself at stake.

The surrationalism of 'pataphysics might

pursue this line of reasoning in order to suggest that in

fact science replaces its errors not with other errata, but

with other errors, each one more subtle than the last one.

Science errs when it sees its history as a consecutive

process of both accumulation and amelioration.

When tracing

the history of the term "physical," from the discourse of

Aristotle (phsçikos), through the discourse of Bacon

(phvsica), to the discourse of Heisenberg (phusics), science

often presumes not only that each discourse is the nascent

form of the next discourse, but also that each discourse is

a variant form of the same discourse: scientie. The word


science," however, does not designate the coherent progress

of one rational practice, but instead signifies an unstable

array of logical tactics, whose local, synergistic conflict

can invoke, provoke, and revoke a global, syllogistic


deduction through dialectics (for Aristotle);

jnduction through empiricism (for Bacon); and abduction

through statistics (for Heisenberg).

'Pataphysics reveals that, like poetry, science has an

avant-garde with its own history of dissent. What Deleuze

and Guattari might cal1 the roval sciences of efficient

productivity have historically repressed and exploited the

nomad sciences of expedient adaptability ( 1987: 362)


royal science is a standardized rnetaphysics:

it is deployed

by the state throughout a clathrate, Cartesian space,

putting truth to work on behalf of solid, instrumental

imperatives (law and order).

A nomad science is a

bastardized metaphysics:

it is deployed against the state

throughout an aggregate, Riemannian space, putting truth &

risk on behalf of fluid, experimental operatives (trial and


Such scientific economies are contrastive, but not

exclusive. They transect at many points acrose many scales,

each one immanent in the other, like a postponed potential.

Royal sciences value the renovation of what Kuhn calls

a paradiam (1970:10), a nomic language-game that must

systematically (im)prove its own consistency and efficiency

by solving problems, yevokinfi anomsly for the sake of what


is normal and known.'

Nomad sciences, however, value the

innovation of what tyotard calls a paralo~~

(1984:60), a

ludic language-game that must systematically (ap)prove its

own inconsistency and inefficiency by convolving problems,

invokinq anomaly for the sake of what is abnormal and


These two economies do not oppose each other so

much as enfold each other.

They inflect opposite values of

intent within a composite system of truth.

A failure in one

language-game played according to one set of rules always

determines the rules of success for a new language-game

played according to a new set of rules.

'Pataphysics no doubt defines the rubric for this kind

of nomadic paralogy.

Itinerant and sophistic, al1 such

surrationalism reveals that science, like poetry, changes

only when it deploys what Shklovsky might cal1 a tactic of

ostranenie, of estrangement (12).

Scientific revolutions

may be nothing more than metaphoric revolutions, in which

autotelic novelties foreground the dramatization of a system

in order to undermine the autornatization of its reason.

Paradigm shifts reveal that every axiology secretly involves

a reductio ad absurdum--the anomaly of an irresistible, but

inadmissible, theorem.

The aporia of such a system arises

paradoxically from the rigour of its logic--as if its

success also means its failure.

The sudden triumph of

'pataphysics thus does not imply the utter defeat of

metaphysics so much as the pyrrhic victory of metaphysics.

Lyotard observes that, because science creates a method

by which to correct the errors that it detects in its

method, science is "a process of delegitimation fueled by

the demand for legitimation itself" (1984:39).


by a paradigm against contradiction in the paradigm causes

the paradigm to exclude, as extrinsic from it, a paralogy

intrinsic to it: " science--by concerning itself with such

things as undecidab1esl.J--is

theorizing its own evolution

as[ ...]p aradoxical" (60).

Ironically, the system that

yearns to validate itself, only learns to invalidate itself.

No longer does science rationalize its truth so much as

relativize its truth.

We adopt "a model of legitimation

that has nothing to do with maximized performance" (60), but

rather implies "a model of an 'open system, ' in which a

statement becomes relevant if it 'generates ideas'" (64).

Science graphs a rhizomatic f lowchart of stratif ied

trajectories, an agonistic forcef ield of diversified

catastrophes, some of which collide with each other, some of

which collude with each other, al1 of which operate together

simultaneously in fits and starts at asynchronous rates of

incornmensurate change.

Science is a complex tissue of

hybrid tensions, its metaphors not only reflectinq each

other, but also refracting each other. They facilitate

changes to aa economy of exchanges by accentuating al1 the

unforeseen instabilities in scientific signification. Like

poetry, science is a bricolage of figures, an assemblage of

devices, none of which fit together perfectly--but unlike

poetry, science must nevertheless subject its tropes to a

system, whose imperatives of both verity and reality

normally forbid any willing suspension of disbelief.

Science and poetry have shared a common history,

undergoing four phases of distinct change (the anirnatismic,

the mechanismic, the organismic, and the cyborganismic);

nevertheless, the two disciplines have not evolved in tandem

or in synch.

Foucault observes, for example, that science

and poetry have evolved opposite relations to the authorial

function (1977:125-126):

science moves toward anonymity;

poetry moves toward eponymity. The absence of the author in

science serves an allotelic interest (justifying itself for

the sake-of a finality outside of its own language), while

the presence of the author in poetry serves an autotelic

interest (justifying itself for the sake of a finality

inside of its own language). Whenever science gains the

anonymous power to speak the truth about things, poetry

seeks an eponymous refuge in the space of its own words.

Allotelic interests have always regarded autotelic

interests as a waste of time, particularly in a capitalist

economy where only the most effective arsenal of productive

tactics can prevail.

1s it any wonder then that, for such

imperial cynicism, science and poetry function within a

relation, not of genre, but of power The waxing influence

of science has always implied the waning relevance of

poetry--as if science must capitalize upon the competition

for truth in order to monopolize the legitimation of truth.

The science of 'pataphysics, however, expresses on behalf of

poetry what the metaphysics of science represses in itself:

its own basis in signs, their errors and biases--the

ideology of metaphor.

The autotelic aspect of science (its

ludic surrationalism) always threatens to radicalize the

allotelic agenda of science (its nomic rationalism).

Althusser argues that, although ideology always

involves a denegation of itself so thst subjects produced by

it cannot recognize themselves within it, the allotelic

anonymity of science means that the clarity of its language

can nevertheless negate ideology, yet successfully remain


"ideology has no outside (for itself), but at

the same tirne[ ...] it is nothina but outside (for science

[...])" (175). Barthes disagrees, however, arguing that

science is never neutral.

Instead, science interpellates

its subject as an absence--a vanishing point, projected

within ideology as though beyond ideology:

"the scholar

excludes himself in a concern for objectivity; yet what is

excluded is never anything but the 'person'[...],

not the

subject; moreover, this subject is filled[..,]with the very

exclusion it[ ...] imposes upon its person" (8).

Barthes suggests that science differs from poetry, not

because of any disparity between them in format, content,

method, or intent, but becaüse of a disparity between them

in statusœ-a prestige of pedagogy (3). Whereas poetry has

always offered an egalitarian regime, destabilizing the

signifier within a generalized economy of polysemic

enunciation, science has only offered a totalitarian regime,

stabilizing the si~nified within a restricted economy of

monosemic enunciation.

For Barthes, science must begin to

acknowledge its ideological investments, radicalizing itself

by poeticizing itself.

If ideology is the unreal

conciliation of a real contradiction, is it not fair to Say

that ideology is itself an imaginary solution--and therefore


If metaphysics must study the ontology of

truth, must not 'pataphysics study the ideology of power

Ultimately, the conflict between science and poetry

concerns this power to speak the truth, and this power has

undergone four phases of epistemic transition:


animatismic phase, whose truth involves interpreting signs

through an act of exegesis; the mechanismic phase, whose

truth involves disquisiting signs through an ect of

mathesis; the oraanismic phase, whose truth involves

implementing signs through an act of anamnesis; and the

cvbornanismic phase, whose truth involves deregulating signs

through an act of catamnesis. The life sciences, for

example, have progressed from the biomaav of animatism,

through the biotaxu of mechanism, through the biolo~v of

organism, to the bionics of cyborganism.

Each phase

involves not only a different definition of science and

poetry, but also a different opposition between them.

During the animatismic phase, when papal academies

divide discourse scholastically into modes of textualization

and numeralization (trivium and suadrivium), knowledge is

rarefied largely because of its insufficient supply.


the mechanismic phase, when royal academies divide discourse

aristocratically into modes of investigation and

dissemination, knowledge is rarefied largely because of its

unspecialized market.

During the organismic phase, when

state academies divide discourse democratically into modes

of ratiocination and acculturation (scientia and humanitas),

knowledge is rarefied because of its specialized labour.


And during the cyborganismic phase, when state academies

divide discourse plutocratically into modes of totalization

and optimization, knowledge is rarefied largely because of

its overabundant supply*

The Animatismic Phase

Foucault observes that , bef ore empiricism, "divinatio

and eruditio are both part of the same hermeneutics"

(1973:34). Medieval trestises on natural history establish

no criterion for the condition of relevance, since such

treatises merely compile leaenda, collecting together

haphazardly al1 the randorn lore about a sample topic in

order to document the complex heraldry of its textual


"none of these forms of discourse is required to

justify its d a i m to be expressing a truth before it is

interpreted; al1 that is required of it is the possibility

of talking about it" (40). Science in its snimstismic phase

sees that signs exist long before being known:

they are

written-into things by nature, and they extinguish the

distance between things in order to reveal the synchronie

continuum of their secret order.

Reality for the animatismic phase is a stable orrery

that revolves around a central fulcrum.

Knowing such a

eality involves an exegetic function, reading signs,

interpreting them, rearranging them within an anagram that

permutes al1 their modes of sympathy and antipathy.

Such an

anatomy of forms distributes signs aesthetically throughout

a nomad regime in which al1 things must conform to an order

of both resemblance and concordance.

Even the difference

between the reasoning of science and the imagining of poetry

does not yet exist because no paradigm provides a consensus

for such verities.

Each text has equal truthfulness. Each

myth can convey what Vico might cal1 a "poetic wisdom"

(110), whose truth owes its power to an error that demands

belief in a "credible impossibilityt' (120)--an as if that

can provide the premise in the future for a nuovo scienza. 4

Poetic wisdom simply monopolizes the totality of both

the subject and the object, leaving no space for modern

science to speak the truth for itself except as an act of

deviance within such a norm.

Poetic wisdom cannot recognize

any disparity between the subjective affect of imagining and

the objective effect of reasoning. Alchemy, for example

resorts to such poetic wisdom in order to imagine a lapis

philoso~horum that can produce a coniuntia o~~ositorum,

harmonizing the disputes among al1 such elements.


becomes a ritual of scenes in which al1 things can change

their images into each other.

The transitive category for


lead becoming gold transmutes into a redemptive allegory

about body becoming soul. The lapis ~hiloso~horum is a

thing unlike any other, but it makes things so that they are

like everything else.

Tt is the metaphor for al1 metaphor.

Donne practices the poetic wisdom of such a scenic

ritual when he deliberately misunderstands the difference

between the science of alchemy and his poetry of conceits,

inviting his reader, "As fire these drossie Rymes to

purifie,/ Or as Elixir, to change them to gold" since such a

reader is "that Alchimist which alwaies had/ W i t ,

whose one

spark could make good things of bad" (294).

Alchemy becomes

a metaphor that can undergo a process of alchemy itself.

The device of the conceit reflects an alchernical rnarriage of

antongrnical extremes so that, for example, the idea of love

can be equated with any motif, no matter how absurd, be it a

drafting compass or a drinking insect.

The lapis of

alchemy, like the lexis of poetry, reveals that the figura1

is merely the alembic for the literal. The noble metal of

truth arlses from the ignoble filth of error. 5

Vico claims that just as modern science shows that "man

becomes al1 things by understanding (homo intelliaendo fit

ornnia)," so also does poetic wisdom show tbat "man becomes

al1 things by not understanding[...)(bomo

non intelliaendo


fit omnia)" (130). To understand on behalf of truth is to

be reactive, accepting the world of the as is, but to

misunderstand on behalf of error is to be creative,

inventing the world of the as if.

To be an alchemist is to

practice an aesthetic that acts as a lapis ~hiloso~horum,

transmuting the errors of alchemy (a nomad science) into the

truths of chemistry (a royal science), but ironically, this

change requires that science and poetry shift from an order

where they are unified to an order where they are divided.

A literal stone that philosophers must diligently seek

embodies a figura1 power that they must eventually deny.

Foucault argues that, during such a transition, the

"tautological world of resemblance now finds itself

dissociated and, as it were, split down the middle"

(1973:58). For Donne, such a dissociation of sensibility

implies the failure of alchemy to reconcile the imminent

conflict between the subjective affect of imagining and the

objective effect of reasoning:

"new philosophy cals al1 in

doubt" so that "The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's

wit/ Can well direct him, where to looke for it" (335).

The old, geocentric order of elemental synthesis regards the

conceit as the integrel epitome of al1 similes, but the new,

heliocentric order of empirical analysis regards the conceit

as the marginal extreme of al1 follies.'

Not until the

advent of 'pataphysics does the conceit, the synthesis of

opposites, regain its status as a device of poetic wisdom.

The Mechanismic Phase

Bacon observes that , before empiricism, "systems are

but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own

creation after an unreal and scenic fashion" (1960:49).

Natural history must revoke these "Idols of the ~heater"

(49), replacing the theatrical world of scenes (the as if)

with the empirical world of senses (the as is), but this

change risks an aporia since this new mode of investigation

only ratifies a new mode of dramatization--the petit r&it

of an experiment in which an event must restage itself again

and again under the auspice of control.

Epistemic errors

are now simply traced to linguistic abuses.

Science in its

mechanismic phase sees that signs exist only by being known:

they are written ont0 things by culture, and they

distinguish the distance between things in order to invent

the synchronie continuum of their proper order.

Reality for the mechanismic phase is a stable clock

that operates within a static regimen.

Knowing such a

reality involves a mathetic function, testing signs,

disquisiting them, regimenting them within a diagram that


displays al1 their modes of identity and alterity.

Such a

taxonomy of forms distributes signs incrementally throughout

a royal regime in which al1 things must depend upon an order

of both equivalence and difference.

The evidence of

science, not the eminence of poetry, provides a consensus

for the verities of a paradigm.

Al1 texts have their

truthfulness at stake. Al1 texts must legitimate their


The truth of science fulfills such a requisite by

favourably gauging its power over the object against the

divine power of nature.

The truth of science thus aligns

its cause, its arche, with the power of a noumenal origin.

Modern science simply colonizes the alterity of the

object, leaving no space for poetic wisdom to speak the

truth about nature except through an act of alliance with

such a norm.

Poetic wisdom must adopt the values of modern

science in order to state any objective verities.


for example, argues that , poet ically

"Truth 1s never so

w d l expresç'd or amplify'd, as by those Ornaments which are

Truie1 and Real in themselves" (414).

Truth is the best

ornament because it has the least ornament--which is t o say

that science is the best poetry because it has the least


The irony here is that verse must learn its rules

of metaphor from a genre that rules out metaphor.

The sage

of science actually becomes the muse of poetry (hence the

numerous elegies to scientists, particularly N ewton, despite

the fact that science follows a principle of antipoeisis). 7

Newton berates poetry for its "ingenius nonsense" (Bush

40) even though Glover portrays him as the paragon of

poetry: "O might'st thou, ORPHEUS,

now again revive,/ And

NEWTON should inform thy list'ning ear" ([Pemberton 231).

Poetry indulges in scientific sycophancy, largely because

the gravity of force in the Princi~ia lends itself to the

idea of a poetic sublime just as the levity of light in the

Opticks lends itself to the idea of a poetic beauty. 8

Glover writes that "Newton demands the muse" ([14]), but

soon Thomson w onders:

"How shall the Muse, then, grasp the

mighty theme," particularly "when but a few/ Of the deepstudying

race can stretch their minds/ To what he knew"

(1853:337). Science has unveiled so many universal

mysteries that, ironically, it threatens to become a poetry

of truth more sublime than the truth of poetry itself.

Poetry makes an effort to dispute this omniscience of

science (its will to power), as Swift does, for example, but

poetry cannot dispute the conscience of science (its will to

truth). While science ascends to a state of greater

complexity, becoming more abstract, theoretic, and

autocratic, poetry descends through science to a state of


greater simplicity, becoming more concrete, pragmatic, and

democratic. To keep Pace with science, poetry must shift

its focus from the sublime in the natural physics of Newton

to the poetic beauty in the natural history of Linnaeus.

As Aikin avers, the updated images of natural history must

replace the outdated tropes of poetry since "nothing can be

really beautiful which has not truth for its basis" (25).

To fulfill a didactic mandate, poetry must learn its truth

directly from the mineral, the vegetal, and the bestial. 9

Darwin, the poetic savant, follows such advice to t he

letter when he explains the botanical taxonomy of Linnaeus

by equating modes of floral procreation with modes of social


"the general design[ ...] is to inlist

Imagination under the banner of Science; and to lead her

votaries from the looser analogies, which dress[ ...]p oetry,

to the stricter ones, which form[ . . . lphilosophy" ( 1791 :v) .

Poetic pleasure submits to noetic pedagogy.

The catalogue

of flowers, the antholonv, so to speak, is merely the

flowery ornament for the summary document of its scientific


The poetry acts as a mere note for the notes

themselves--a pretense to plant the seeds of interest so

that the reader might in turn disseminate this information.

The poetry literally is a botanic garden, in which

germinates the romantic metaphor that poetry is organic.

The Oraanismic Phase

Coleridge observes that, after empiricism, the botanic

mode1 of science does inform a poetry of organic unity, but

contrary to Darwin, this poetic pleasure does not submit to

noetic pedagogy:

"[a] poem[ ...] is opposed tof. ..]science,

by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth"

(164). Wordsworth qualifies this statement by arguing that

"the knowledge of both the Poet and the Man of science is

pleasure" (456), but while poetry is an ecstatic search for

an intimate truth, science is a monastic search for an

ultimate truth--one whose discourse values an empiricism of

the senses at the expense of their sensualism.

Science in

its organismic phase sees that signs evolve by being known:

they are written across events by culture, and they

distinguish the interval between events in order to direct

the diachronic continuum of their normal order.

Reality for the organismic phase is a simple engine

that generates a stable dynarnic.

Knowing such a reality

involves an anemnestic function, working signs, implementing

them, redeploying them within a program that displays al1

their modes of function and relation. Such an economy of

forms distributes its signs pragmatically thoughout a royal

regime in which al1 things must depend upon an order of both

3 1

productivity and applicability.

Not only the evidence of

science, but also the progress of science, provides a

consensus for the verities of a paradigm.

Al1 texts have

their usefulness at stake. Al1 texts must legitimate their


The truth of science fuifills such a requisite by

favourably gauging i L s power over the subject against the

humane power of culture. The truth of science thus aligns

its effect, its telos, with the power of a noumenal motive.

Modern science simply colonizes the identity of the

subject, leaving no space for poetic wisdom to speak the

truth about culture except through an act of defiance

against such a norm.

Poetic wisdom must evict the values of

modern science in order to state any subjective verities.

Hence, Keats condemns Newton for the "cold philosophy" that

must "Conquer al1 mysteries by rule and line" (226) just as

Blake condemns Newton for the "Reasonings like vast

Serpents" that must hang their "iron scourges over Albion"

(16). Such reasoning that allegedly discredits imagining

only creates an undead truth, an Ur-Frankenstein that, for

Wordsworth, must await a poetic rebirth:

"the Poet will

lend his divine spirit to aid in the transfiguration" when

"science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put

on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood" (456) .Io

Wordsworth claims t hat "[tlhe remotest discoveries of

the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as

proper objects of the ~oet's art[. ..] if the time should ever

corne when these things shall be familias to us" (456), but

in the meantime, this differend has no terms for consensus.

Poetry indulges in scientific controversy, largely because

the schisrn between reasoning and imagining has begun to


reflect the anomie of poetic labour.

For Huxley, such

labour cannot compete with the capital values of utility


poetry must warrant a Benthamite rejection--

but for Arnold, such labour does reflect upon the communal

values of liberty (1889:llZ)--which is to say, the reasoning

of science can teach what is real and true, but only the

imagining of poetry can teach what is fine and just.

Schlegel writes that poetry must redeem science in the

belief that "al1 art should become science and al1 science

art" (157).

Poetry must become a genre of therapeutic

knowledge, creating pseudo-statements that can, according t o

Richards, detach the untruth of poetry from belief and yet

retain the beauty of such untruth in order to refine belief

itself (61).

Newtonian cosmology has discredited the poetic

object just as Darwinian evolution has discredited the

poetic sub ject ; therefore, poetry must henceforth resort to

the as if of an imaginary solution in order to speak its own


Poetry must ascend through science to a state of

greater complexity, becoming more abstract, theoretic, and

autocratie. Poetry must transform its scientific

radicalism, shifting its critique from an opposition

(external to science) to a subversion (interna1 to science).

'Pataphysics thus arises just before modernism begins

to wring its hands about the enigma of what Snow calls "the

Two Cultures" (2).

Huxley argues that, despite their

dispute, the two cultures resemble each other most when the

noetic clarity of reasoning and the poetic opacity of

imagining approach the sublimity of the ineffable (1963:14).

What is sublime in the pseudo of poetry can, according to

Richards, return reasoning and irnagining to an equilibrium

that resembles the tension of forces in a cloud of magnets

(15-18).ll Such an equation of antonyms revives the conceit

as a sublime device not of alchernical marriage, but of

scientific synthesis; hence, Eliot can equate poetry with a

platinum catalyst that fuses oxygen and sulphur without

changing-itself: "[ilt is in this depersonalization that

art may be said to approach the condition of science" (7). 12

The Csbor~anismic Phase

Barthes observes that, after modernism, science can no


longer stabilize its object within an allotelic economy of

monosemic reference, but must, like poetry, criticize its

method within an autotelic economy of polysemic existence:

"science speeks itself; literature writes itself[...]:


is not the same body, and hence the same desire, which is

behind the one and the other" (5); nevertheless, "science

will becorne literature, insofar as literature [ . . . ] is

alreadyr. ..]sciencew (IO), only when science can see that

its own truth exists not outside of language, but only

because of language. Science in its cyborganismic phase

sees that signs evolve beyond being known:

they are written

as events by culture, and they extinguish the interval

between events in order to create the synchronic

discontinuum of their random order,

Reality for the cyborganismic phase is a complex matrix

that cornputes a mobile dynamic.

Knowing such a reality

involves a catamnestic function, playing signs,

deregulating them, recombining them within a hologram that

displays-al1 their modes of seduction and simulation.


a synonymy of forms distributes its signs excrementally

throughout a nomad regime in which al1 things must depend

upon an order of virtuosity and virtuality.

Al1 texts have

their artfulness at stake.

Al1 texts must legitimate not

only their reasons (be they in the origin or in the result),


but the reason for these reasons. The truth of science can

no longer fulfill such a requisite by favourably gauging its

power against the metaphysics of either an arche or a telos,

but only against the 'pataphysics of an exceptional


it an aporia, a chissm, or a swerve*

Modern science simply mono.polizes the totality of both

the subject and the object, leaving no space for poetic

wisdom to speak the truth for itself except as an act of

deviance within such a norm. Modern science can no longer

stabilize the disparity between the subjective affect of

imagining and the objective effect of reasoning.

The advent

of 'patsphysics signals the first attempts to subvert this

agenda from within its own limits. The science of

'pataphysics inspires a literary tradition that has in turn

begun to regard itself as s response to science with an

outcome to be studied by a science, be it formalist,

structural, semiologic , or cybernetic . l3

The ' pataphysical

fundamentsls of surrationalism have in turn provided the

aesthetic parallel for the dialectic sophistry of almost al1

anti-metaphysical meta-philosophies.

Baudrillard suggests that, "a century after Jarry, but

in a cool universe without irony, and without 'pataphysical

acid," science has so inflated the fund of information that

the excesses of such metastasis evoke the flidouille of Ubu:

"['p]ataphysics or metaphysics, this pregnancyr ...] is one of

the strangest signs[ ...] of this spectral environment where

each ce11 (each function, each structure), is left with the

possibility, as in cancer, [...]of multiplying indefinitely"

(1990:28). Science is a tautological extravagance, for

which Ubu, "a figure of genius, replete with that which has

absorbed everything, transgressed everything, [... Iradiates


in the void like an imaginary solution" (71).

Science now

functions in what Jarry might cal1 an economy of phvnance

(1969:43), expending without investing, producing pschitt or

merdre--an ironic eponym for "excess" with an excess letter.

Baudrillard suggests that, for such an economy of

science, the threat of the unreal haunts every system of

verity since the methods of physics can no longer confirm

whether or not reality itself is a fsntasy:

"[sJuch would

be the [']pataphysics[ ...] that lies in wait for al1 physics

at its inadmissible limitstt (1990:85). Has not physics

already started to resemble a science of imaginary

solutions, what with its particle zoo of new paradoxes (the

amphibolies of psrticles, the metaleptics of causality) Do

we not see a hint of 'pataphysics in the strsngeness gf

anti-matter, black-holes, and time-travel (the theories of

which have already fomented philosophical apprehensions


about the existence of existence itself) In the face of

such scientific absurdities, poetry has responded by

portraying itsel f as a literalized experiment .

Prigogine and Stengers observe that, for such an

episteme, "science occupies a peculiar position, that of a

poetical interrogation of nature, in the etymological sense

that the poet is a 'makerY--active," inventing the world

post facto while observing the world a priori (301).

Science has finally achieved the hyperbole of its own

"death," so to speak, disappearing into a condition of

tautologic metalepsis, paradoxically becoming both the cause

and effect of its own virtual reality.

Science has begun to

fulfill the simulacral precession that, for Baudrillard,

defines the 'pataphysics of a postmodern philosophy.


Genosko suggests, "[i]t is surely a ['Jpataphysical accident

that death is for Baudrillard the very[. ..]gesture which

pushes the tautologies of the system over the edge, with a

belly laugh of symbolic proportions" ( 116).


Feyerabend argues that, for science to progress, the

nomic truth of the as is must induce an escape to the ludic

space of an as if: "we need a dream-world in order to

discover the f eatures of the real world[ . . . Iwhich may

actually be just another dream-world" (32). Science in such

a Traumwelt adopts not the terrorism of unified theories,

but the anarchism of ramified theories--"[t]he only

principle that does not inhibit progress is:

ansthina noes"

(23). Such a principle does not encode a laissez-faire

economy (whose Darwinian cornpetition requires that a royal

science discard the truth of a defunct concept as either

extinct or deviant); instead, such a principle tries to

entice a savoir-faire economy (whose Lucretian arbitration

requires that a nomad science bracket the truth of a defunct

concept as either dormant or defiant), 15

'Pataphysics dramatizes this principle of Feyerabend by

arguing that, however obsolete or indiscrete any theory

might at first appesr, every theory has the potential to

improve knowledge in s ame way.

Just as biodiversity can

make an ecology more adaptable, so also can dilettantism

make an episteme more versatile.

The process of science

muet lea-rn to place its defunct concepts into a kind of

suspended animation that preserves them for the millenary

reverie of an imaginary science. The truth diverges

throughout many truths, inducing the sophisms of dissent,

novelty, and paradox: "given any rule(...]for science,

there are always circumstances when it is advisable not only


to ignore the rule, but to adopt its opposite" (23) in order

"to make the weaker case the therebv to

sustain the motion of the whole" (30).

'Pataphysics thus behaves as if it is a Philosophie des

Als Ob.

Vaihinger observes that the phrase "as if"

constitutes a "comparative apperception" (91), juxtaposing

two concepts somewhere in the interzone between the

virtuality of a figura1 relation and the actuality of a

literal equation.

Neither rhetorical nor theoretical, the

as if constitutes a paradox of contingency, since reference

is made to an impossibility, but from this impossibility an

inference is made:

"reality[ ...] is com~ared with something

whose[. ..]unreality is at the same time admitted" (98). The

as if posits the possible consequences of an impossible


The as if is simply the irnaginary solution

tu the question what if. 1s not this question a deliberate

misreading that shows the real and the true to be quasi and

pseudo--free, that is, to be something else

'Pataphysics suggests that metaphysics forgets that

this operative conditional (as if) is not an imperative

conditional (if then); nevertheless, the latter relation

always resides unheard between the two words of the former

relation. The if then revokes the suspension of disbelief


in the as if so that the event must be treated as it would

be treated if it were as is. The slightness of this

difference between the as if and the if then thus marks the

slightness of the difference between truth and power.


science of 'pataphysics explores these conditionals in order

to see what might happen if science is treated as poetry and

vice versa, the philosopher studying the exceptional (be it

the anomalos, the suz~~ia, or the clinameq) in order to make

the weaker case, the stronger--almost as if to say that

ultimately such a case might be as true as ang

from Tlon.

Notes to Chanter 1

is of course an ironic signifier w ith two

meanings that contradict each other.

Its real usage as an

adjective in German refers to an originary mode1 for

imaginary copies, but its unreal usage as a substantive in

Tlhese refers to imaginary copies wi thout any originary


The ur thus embodies a paradox of simulation, whose

structure implies that, at the origin, no origin exists, but

the dream of an origin.

No longer does the causal vector

from the real to its copy make sense since the fantasy of

the u_r does not replicate, so much as originate, reality.

'~an~uilhern observes thet "the history of science

is the history of an abject[. ..]that is a history and [that]

- has a history, whereas science is the science of an object

that is not a history [and] that has a history" (25-26).

Science ignores its history because science in its history

is no longer science* For science, truth is prescient,

always t-here before the fact of its revelation; for history,

truth is expedient, only there after the fact of its

production. The history of truth shows that a persistent

concept does not necessarily imply its consistent meaning.


'~uhn writes that "a paradigi is a criterion for

choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for

granted, can be assumed to have solutions" (1970:37). It is

a Weltanschauung with three discursive functions:

first, it

ratifies interdictions in order to define what it makes

perceivable and thereby improve its accuracy; second, it

verifies predictions in order to align the perceivable with

the conceivable and thereby improve its efficacy; and third,

it pacifies contradictions in order to define what it makes

conceivable and thereby improve its adequacy.

'~uovo scienza is a poetic wisdom that might

study poetic wisdom (and thus such a science almost appears

to preempt 'pataphysics itself). Vico, like Jarry, believes

that, because nature is an inhuman creation, we can never

know its truth; but unlike Jarry, Vico believes that,

because culture is a human creation, we can know its truth.

Jarry argues that al1 truth, be it natural or cultural, is

still an opaque mirage, never to be known. Every science,

for him; is a poetic wisdom if only because it rnust commit

at leest one error--the error of belief in truth itself,

onne ne suggests that al1 "this worlds genrall

sicknesse" ( 336) might paradoxicslly cleanse impurity itsel f

and thus "purifie/ All, by a true religious Alchimy" (334).

Metaphysics involves a christological transmutation that

purifies a supernal truth of al1 its errors; however,

'pataphysics involves an anti-christological transmutation

that purifies an infernal error of al1 its truth (as if

truth itself is the filth)-ohence, Ubu in the heraldic

allegory of Caesar Antichrist performs a reverse alchemy, in

which to rise above sin is to fa11 from grace.

'~allyn observes that , for Copernicus and Kepler,

"the world is the work of a divine poietes," and "what they

aim to reveal through their own poetics is thus

truly[ ...] the poetic structure of the world" (20). Donne

feels snxiety about such a poetic cosmos even though its

system is more aesthetic than empirical, not verified and

rectified so much as symmetrized and harmonized.


problem is that such a view radically displaces humanity,

propelling us into a regressive infinitude, a sublime

extreme without limit, be it atomic or cosmic in scale.


'~homson eulogizes Newton:

"The heavens are al1

hi6 own; from the wild rule/ Of whirling vortices and

circling s~heres,/ To their first great simplicity

restored," and "Even Light itself[...]/ Shone undiscover'd,

till his brighter rnind/ Untwisted al1 the shining robe of

day" (1853:336).

Akenside, likewise, eulogizes Newton:

"The lamp of science through the jealous maze/ Of Nature

guides, when haply you reveal/ Her secret honours: [...)/

The beauteous laws of light, the central powers/ That wheel

the pensile planets round the year" ( 1825: 51-52 ) .

orce ce and light acquire aesthetic currency in an

industry that must versify the theory by Newton in order to

deify the memory of Newton.

For poets influenced by the

sublime of the Princi~ia, see William Powell Jones:


Rhetoric of Science:

A Studs of Scientific Ideas and

Irna~ery in Ei~hteenth-Centurv Enalish Poetrv (Berkeley:

University of California, 1966).

For poets influenced by

the beauty of the Opticks, see Marjorie Nicholson:


Pemands -the Muse:

Newton's 'Opticks' and the Ei~hteenth

Centurs Poets (Hamden: Archon, 1946).

'~ikin posits a didact ic hierarchy ascending f rom

the mineral to the animal, so that zoology lends itself best

to poetry, largely because beasts most closely resemble

humans and thus provide a larges repertoire of pedagogical

similes (34). Aikin thus contradicts himself: he argues

that poetry must use science to reject the past of culture

and depict nature directly, but then he argues that poetry

must use science to reject a part of nature and depict


culture indirectly.

Poetry must imitate a facet of the

natural that most imitates the realm of the cultural.

l0wordsworth posits a dualist paradox when he

deploys this animatismic tropology-for

although science is

an inanimate body of knowledge, it has no flesh, no corpus,

and is thus a body without a body, yet this insensate,

incorporeal form of knowledge is not a soul, because it has

no breath, no animus, and is thus a soul without a soul.

Science, like the Monster in Frankenstein, is a morbid

figure for the corruption of simulation.

Shelley implies

that science, not poetry, is the replica of an error that

threatens to replace the truth of the origin.

llFtichards argues that poetic wisdom is s brownian

movement: "Suppose that[ ...] we carry an arrangement of msny

magnetic needles, large and small, swung so that they

influence one another, some able only to swing horizontally,

others vertically, others hung freely[.. ..]

Each new

disequilibriumf ...] corresponds to a need; and the wagglings

which ensue as the system rearranges itself are our

responses[ ....] Sometimes the poem is itseif the influence

which disturbs us, sometimes it is merely the means by which

an already existing disturbance can right it~elf.'~ (15-18)


12~liot argues that poetic wisdom is a chernical


"When the two gases[. ..]are mixed in the presence

of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid.


combination takes place only if the platinum is present;

nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of

platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected;

has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the

poet is the shred of platinum[. ...] [Tlhe more perfect the

artist, -the more completely separate in him will be the man

who suf fers and the mind which creates" ( 7-8 ) .

"~aulson has provided one of the most

theoretically comprehensive surveys of such sciences when he

plots the epistemic transition from the organismic paradigm

of literature to the cyborganisrnic paralogy of information:

"[ais science disqualifies the medium through which we have

experienced and spoken the world, language and culture as we

have known them are swept away at an astonishing rate" so

that, "[ilf we want to preserve something of our

subjectivityl ... 1, then we must open Our texts to the

new[ ,.. ]noises of science" (52).

"~audrillard implies that , as a " [ ' plataphysician

at twenty" (l996a:83), he derives much of his irony from a

scientific vocabulary--particularly when he indulges in his

own hyperbole of molecular metaphors, be they quantum,

fractal, genetic, etc.

Genosko remarks that, for

Baudrillard, such language does not evoke the rhetorical

equivalent of scientific legitimation; instead, the nomad

value of these modifiers rises in indirect relation to their

absence -of meaning:

they constitute a "science fiction

practised in the service of the symbolic" (106).


15~eyerabend writes:

"NO idea is ever examined in

al1 its ramifications and no view is ever given al1 the

chances [thst] it deserves" (49) for "[tlheories are

abandoned and superseded by more fashionable accounts long

before they have had an opportunity to show their virtues"

(40). Voodoo, for example, offers science an insight into

(heretofore unknown) aspects of pharmacology even though the

practice of voodoo ignores al1 theories of science. We

might thus imagine that al1 absurd concepts merely await the

proper context for their errors to be redeemed as truths.

Millenial 'Patavhssics: The Poetics of an Imaninarv Science


"[Al11 science is analysis rather than

literature, is it not"


"Joan was guizzical, studied 'pataphysical

science in the home, late nights al1 alone

with a test-tube." (Lennon, McCartney 1970)

"[Tlhe mind is a ['lpataphysical camera[ ....]

Set the[...]shutter speed to l/infinity

in order to catch the universal everlasting


(Jirgens 1986:S)

The Millenary Problem

'Pataphysics has so far proven daunting to critics

because of its academic frivolity and hermetic perversity;

consequently, critics have often defined 'pataphysics as

more problematic than theorematic, reading Jarry only by

focussing on the dramaturgy of his life, not on the

philosophy of his work-as

if how he lived is more artful

than what he wrote.

Few critics have recognized that, far

from simply being the idiolect of an alcoholic, 'pataphysics

is a surrational perspective that hss had an extensive, yet

f orgotten, influence upon the canonic history of radical


Few critics have recognized that 'petaphysics

actually informs the innovation of the postmodern.

Not only

does this avant-garde pseudo-science valourize whatever is

exceptional and paralogical; it also sets the parameters for

the contemporary relationship between science and poetry.

Jarry may precede the French word 'pataphusique with an

apostrophe in order to avoid punning, but ironically his

neologism is still polysemic, since the French idiom for the

English word "flair," Ja patte (the band, or "paw," of the

artist) appears in the homophonic phrase patte & physique--

the flair of physics:

Ubu, for example, is a slapstick

comedian (pataud physique) of unhealthy obesity (pateux

physique), whose bodily language (patois physique) fomenta

an astounded physics (gpatge phvsique) that is not your

physics (pas ta physique).

The apostrophe denotes that,

while wordplay in the sciences is absent by edict, it is

still present by proxy, since even truth is a language-game

that carr never efface its statua as a language-game. As

Torma avers: "Ttlhe word true means ~recisely no th in^ here

and succumbs under a f ' l ~ata~h~sical ~aw-swipe" (Hale 145 ) .

Jarry argues that, for 'pataphysics, reality does not

exist, except as an as if, a comparative apperception, in


which a 'pataphysician, might conjure a reality to explore--

almost as if "[tlhe world was simply an immense ship"

(1989:103)--a sieve perhaps, with a 'pataphysician at the

helm. Baudrillard argues that, for "Jarryites," al1 such

denials of reality (including those now cited in quantum

physics) entai1 a fantasy about the omnipotence of thought--

its power to dream events into being, to change the world

through the ur of simulation (1990:80)e

suggests when explicating 'pataphysics:

As McCaffery


mendacityl ...) is the vitality of articulation which carries

its own positive implications: that al1 events are capable

of alteration, that a lie attacks language at its weakest

fabricative point: reality itself" (1986:200).

'Pataphysics uses such sophistic reasoning in order to

suggest that the ability of science to repeat its results,

to foment new advances, is fortuitous, since it is

gratuitous, given that no necessity determines whether or

not reality has to be representable or even comprehensible

to any viewpoint.

Sandomir, for example, adopts this stance

when he suggests that, because "Existence has no more reason

to exist than reason has to exist" and because "the

manifestations of existence are aberrant and their necessity

entirely contingent," a 'pataphysician might easily argue

that "'Pataphysics precedes Existence" (1960d:170) insofar


as such a science creates in advance the reality that it


For Jarry, science is nothing more than a

tautological recursiveness that only finds what it seeks:


reality that proves itself to be both existent and rational.

A Scizntific Classicism

Initially lampooning the curriculum of the physics

master père ~kbert at the ~ ~ c de k e Rennes, 'pataphysics

subsequently evolves in a fragmentary manner through three

political contexts of literary personae:

Ubu (who mocks the

power of a monarch); Sengle (who mocks the power of a

soldier); and Faustroll (who mocks the power of a scho1ar)--

al1 three attacking the quiddity of both the real and the

true in order to show that, when faced with relativistic

perspectives, "[ulniversal assent is [an] incomprehensible

prejudice" (1965:192).

Jarry develops this precept most

expansively in his "Neo-Scientific Novel" about Faustroll,

whose absurd voyage aboard a sieve takes him to the realm of

Ethernity, where his exploits lampoon some of the popular

science of the fin de siacle, particularly the hydrodynamic

lectures of Boys and the thermodynamic lectures of Kelvin.

Jarry parodies the discourse of such scientific

luminaries, who attempt to demonstrate the utility of

science through the dramaturgie performance of a mechanical



Rather than build operative devices for

harnessing thought (as Boys and Kelvin might do), the

'pataphysician must instead build excessive devices for

unleashing thought--devices like the uriaarv jet, which

trills music, or the robotic Sun, which churns fleme: the

former machine distorting the work of Boys, who must explain

the sonic resonation of fluid propulsion by referring to a

mechanism built from glass-tubes, rubber-sheets, and waterjets

(1959:103); the latter machine distorting the work of

Kelvin, who must explain the mechanical tropes of solar

convection by referring to a mechanism built from paddlewheels,

screw-gears, and pulley-winches (1889:379).

Jarry imagines such parodic devices in order to

sabotage the Newtonian classicism that has traditionally

characterized the epistemological differentiation between

physics and metaphysics.

Rather than subject the emergent

sciences of both hydrodynamics and thermodynamics to the

problematic determinism of a mechanical philosophy (as Boys

and Kelvin might do), Jarry attempts instead to accentuate

the surrational potentials of such physics so that what is

randorn and absurd might fulf il1 the anomalous imperat ive of

a cyborganic philosophy.

While Kelvin describes reality as

a liquid system of springs and weights, whose gyrostatic


elasticity approaches an inexorable condition of inertia

(239)' Jarry believes that the avant-garde pseudo-science of

'pataphysics can intervene in the process of such a reality

in order to perturb the entropy of its banal order.

Jarry endeavours to demonstrate that, like alchemy,

which reduces al1 scientia to an erotic system of symbolic

exchange, even the chernical sciences comprise a set of

metaphorical abstractions, each laden with its own libidinal


Jarry does not borrow scientific concepts so

much as scientific conceits, doing so in order ta imagine a

kind of "counter-dynamic," a catachemv (1965:253), whose

discourse can allegedly reconcile the antonyrnic diammetry

between the axiological objectivity of the ontic world and

the mythological subjectivity of the semic world:


Geometer[. ..]knowest al1 things by the means of lines drawn

in different directions, and hast given us the veritable

portrait of three persons of God in three escutcheons which

are the quart essence of Tarot symbols" (251). Even in

science,- the figura1 is merely the alembic of the literal.

A Scientific Radicalism

Jarry may intend to transform the present context of a

posited reality, inspiring the anarchic politics of

permanent rebellion among much of the avant-garde;

nevertheless, such critics as Shattuck and Sandomir have

argued at length and with fervor that, because 'pataphysics

is an alleged science of indifference, such a science can

never support any political intention--unless it supports

al1 of them.

Shattuck argues that, because "'[plataphysics

preaches no rebellion[...], no political reform," such a

science never attempts to change events:


['lpataphysician[ ...] suspends al1 values" (1984:104).

Sandomir, likewise, argues that, because "'[plataphysics

does not enlighten any more than it should enlighten," such

a science never attempts t o improve things:

"[bJecause of

this, orgies of salvation are avoided" (1960e:173).

Shattuck argues that "'[plataphysics attempts no cures"

(104) even though Jarry has expanded upon a childhood

burlesque of pedagogic authority in order to foment a spirit

of revolt, be it anti-bourgeois or anti-philistine.

Although Shattuck may define such a nomad science as a ludic

philosophy for stoic epicureans since "[ilt allows each

person to live his life as an exception, proving no law but

his own" (106), Shattuck also disarms the radical anarchy of

such Nietzschean sentiments in order to equate 'pataphysics

with a postmodern will, not of wholehearted iconoclasm, but

of halfhearted compliance: "the etiquette of 'Pataphysics:

ironic conformity" (105).

Shattuck, however, cannot

acknowledge that what he regards as an egalitarian

celebration of indifference may instead be nothing more than

a parody of our own scientific impartiality.

Sandomir, likewise, argues that 'pataphysics is

apolitical in its incertitude:

"although democracy or

demophily are[ ...) only one fiction among others, the

['Ipataphysician is without doubt the undisputed holder of

the absolute record of democracy: without even rnaking an

effort he beats the egalitarians at their own game," for

"[tlhe fact is that he denies nothing; he exsuperatesn--

"Ihle is not there to do away with things but to subsume

them" (1960c:179). Sandomir, however, does not seem to

recognize that, since 'pataphysics studies exceptions in

order to make the weaker case, the stronger, such irony

always engages in a fervent dispute with the power of its

present reality-even

if such dispute represents, what

Baudrillard might call, the "transpolitical," relying as it

does upon the fatalistic strategies of simulation (1990:25).

Shattuck and Sandomir may forget that, like Nietzsche,

Jarry attempts to radicalize philosophy, not simply to

preserve metaphysics through an impotent negation of it, but

to displace metaphysics through a radical mutation within

it. Since Jarry develops 'pataphysics most expansively

through Faustroll and his exploits in Ethernity, this survey

concentrates upon the third phase of 'pataphysics in order

to draw such parallels between Jarry and Nietzsche.


survey then goes on to discuss the three declensions of the

exceptional (the anomalos, the sszs~ia, and the clinamen) in

order to itemize their 'pataphysical similarities to modern

tropes that have provided a basis for anti-metaphysical

meta-philosophies--the assumption being that 'pataphysics

represents an unwritten, but intrinsic, intertext to many of

the radical tactics found in deconstructive methodologies .

The Modernits of Jarry

'Pataphysics for Jarry resembles the philosophy of

Nietzsche, insofar as both writers make a case for

pers~ectivism. M. Bourdon at the Iqcge de Rennes is known

to have taught Jarry the philosophy of Nietzsche before its

translation into French (Beaumont 21), and only a few

critics,- particularly Dufresne (1993:26) and McCaffery

(1997:11), have intimated that Nietzsche provides a

critically neglected, but integrally important, set of

antecedents for 'pataphysics.

Just as Nietzsche has striven

"to look at science in the perspective of the artist"

(1966:19), greeting al1 philosophy with skepticism, sa also


does Jarry combine the noetic and the poetic into a genre

that questions al1 epistemological prerequisites.

For Jarry

and Nietzsche, knowledge itself is so deceptive that it

cannot even be corrected by this knowledge about knowledge.

Perspectivism suggests that reality does not exist,

except as the interpretive projection of a phenomenal

perspective--which is to say that, for Nietzsche, reality is

only the effect of a 'Jraumwelt, in which "there are many

kinds of 'truths,' and consequently there is no truth"

(1968:540) since "[tlruths are illusions which we have

forgotten are illusions" (1979:84).

Jarry likewise argues

that reality is but one aspect of an Ethernity, in which

"there are only hallucinations, or perceptions," and every

"perception is an hallucination which is true" (1989:103).

Reality is nothing more than a comparative apperception, an

as if for a disparate collection of different viewpoints,

each one creating the true for itself, while opposing every

other view. Each perspective is thus a solipsistic

singularity that has no recourse to perceptual consensus. 1

Science, for Nietzsche, is merely a viewpoint that does

not explicate a cornmon reality so much as interpret a unique

fantasy: "[tlhe habits of our senses have woven us into

lies and deception of sensation:

these are the basis of al1

our judgments and ' knowledge ' ," for which " there is

absolutely no escape[ ...] into the real world" (Babich 89).

Science, for Jarry, is also such "a statement of what is

visible to the mortal eye ( it is always a matter of mortal

eyes, hence vulgar and[ ...] flawedi. ..], and the sensory

organ being a cause of error, the scientific instrument

simply magnifies that sense in the direction of its error)"

(1989:105). As Daumal avers, no science can exceed the

nooscopic limit of its own anthropic focus, and thus

"['p]ataphysics will measure[ ...] the extent to which

everyone is stuck in the rut of individual existence" (33).

Jarry adopts such a solipsistic viewpoint, in which

perception "s~mbolicallv attributes the properties of

objects, described bv their virtuality, to tbeir lineaments"

(1965:193), the 'pataphysician wilfully mistaking the

superfice of the image for the substance of the thing:


no longer made any distinction at al1 between his thoughts

and actions nor between his dreaming and[ ...] waking"

(1989:103). Just as Nietzsche describes reality as a

vacuous surface, in which we grasp "nothing but the mirror"

(1982:141), so also does Jarry describe a reality of

"parallel mirrors" that reflect their own "reciprocal

emptiness" (1965:211).

Like Berkeley, both Jarry and

Nietzsche argue that esse is perci~i, but while Berkeley


posits a panoptic absolute, whose gaze sustains al1 other

views, Jarry and Nietzsche argue thst no view is absolute.

'Pataphysics in fact sees that every viewpoint is

dissolute-oincluding its own-since

no view can offer a norm

for al1 others.

Jarry even suggests that, because invisible

worlds transect our perceived reality at many points across

many scales, the cosmos almost resembles a heteroclite

archipelago of monolithic lighthouses-strange

islands with

their own "obelischolychnies" (1965:201), each of which

illuminates a particular haven for its own idiocratic


Only eyes adapted to a specif ic spectrum can detect

a given signal; hence, some lights go unseen, particularly

by the hemeralo~es, the dayblind who see only in darkness:

"for moles[...], a lighthouse is as invisible as[ ...] the

infrared rays" (201 ) . A

beacon may even sound its alarms at

a frequency too extreme for auditory response:

"ln30 waves

break against it , and thus no sound guides one to it" ( 201 ) .

'Pataphysics avers that even science itself is just

another beacon, one that guides instinct away from a cool,

but natural, truth toward a warrn, but cultural, truth.

Science thus behaves like a wolf that no longer bays at the

£ire of a terrible moon, but only at the glow of an electric

lamp. Such a pharos may emit light at a different

wavelength, but docs so at an equivalent luminosity,

replacing the vulgar idolatry of belief with the more subtle

egomania of reason:

"[s}cience, say the bourgeois, has

dethroned superstition" (1989:105) when in fact science has

simply ensconced itself as the successor to such credulity

in order to preside over (superstare) the same anthropic

biases of these antiquary errors.

For every solar truth of

a royal science, there is this lunar truth of a nomad

science--a forbidden knowledge that history must outshine.

>Pataphysics confronts such a millenary conundrum with

imaginary solutions, whose metaphors of exception have

perhaps lent as much to Derrida as they have owed to

Nietzsche, providing an unwritten intertext for postmodern


Just as McCaffery has discussed Nietzsche in

terms of a "Zarathustran 'pataphysics" ( 1997 : 11 ) , so also

has Dufresne discussed Derrida in terms of a

"[Dleconstructive ['Ipataphysics" (1993:26), and Stillman

goes so far as to argue that "Jarry's desire to escape

metaphys-ics returns today, newly masked under the

philosophical thrust of deconstruction" ( 39 ) since Jarry

offers a poetic theory of contradictory undecidability,

continually inverting a dyadic hierarchy, while momentarily

subverting its mutual exclusion-neither

cancelling nor

surpassing the dialectic:

not Aufhebung, but Steigerung.


Dufresne observes that "the sheer coincidence[. ..]

which conjoins deconstruction to ['Jpataphysics is worth

further examination" (29) since "it is here[...]that

Derrida, Jarry, and Nietzsche form an unholy trinity, a

truly grand[ ...) style of epiphenomenal proportions" (31)--a

style that does not simply claim, as true, that no claim is

true, but that tries instead to imagine a double science,

whose episteme no longer presumes in sdvance that we even

know how to know.

As Nietzsche avers, "[olne would have to

know what being &, in order to decide whether this or that

is real[...];

in the same way, what certaintv is, what

knowledgc is, and the 1ike.--But since we do not know this,

a critique of the faculty of knowledge is senseless:


should a tool be able to criticize itself when it can use

only itself for critique" (Babich 88).

Nietzsche reveals that, for this reason, "the problem

of science cannot be recognized on the ground of science"

(1966:18) since to do so requires that science be used to

prove that it cannot be used to prove.

Nietzsche thus

evokes the classic paradox that has corne to define

deconstructive ratiocination.

Sandomir has even gone on to

affirm that, of al1 the sciences, "[olnly 'Pataphysics[ ...)

does not explain itself but establishes its own position

within a vicious circle" (1960b:176) i n order to claim what


science cannot admit:

condition of knowledge.

that the absurdity of tautology is a

As Daumal avers, "['plataphysical

arguments do not necessarily set up systems designed to

demonstrate the truth of this or that proposition;" insteed,

"[tlhey generally develop as vicîous circles and bring the

human spirit to a limit-state of stupor and scandal" (112).

Derrida, for example, does not simply oppose a thesis

with its antithesis, nor does he even equate them to a third

term of synthesis--nor does Derrida simply invert this

system of value between thesis and antithesis, but affirms

(and denies) both sides of this dialectic, revealing the

undecidable contradiction that always appears to makes such

a relation both possible and impossible at the same time:

"[tlhe break with this structure of belonging can be

announced only through[ ...] a certain strateaic arrangement

which, within the field of metaphysical opposition, uses the

strengths of the field to turn its own stratagems against

it, producing a force of dislocation that spreads itself

throughout the entire system, fissuring it in every

direction and thoroughly delimitinq it" (1978:SO).

Jarry, Nietzsche, and Derrida, do not defend the truth

of their own sophism so much as flout the truisms of truth

itself--its self-evidence, its self-awereness.

Daumal even


observes that "whatever is self-evident cloaks itself in

absurditv as its onls means of ~ercep-"--" [ w J hence

the humorous appearance of [ ' ] pataphysical reasoning " ( 3 1 ) ,

whose ludicrous syllogisms lead to an infinitude of


lt[']pataphysical sophism is an apparent sophism

which envelops an apparent truth which envelops an apparent

sophism which envelops an apparent truth, and so on ad

infinitum" (111)--or as Torma observes:

J~lut metaphssics

behind r'lpatapbvsics and vou make it merels the facade for

a belief" when in fact "the essence of I'l~ata~husics is

that it is the facade of a facade, behind which there is

nothingW--only the black abyss of total doubt (Hale 145).

The Ethernitv of Faustroll

Jarry situstes his own 'pataphysical sensibility in

such a posited reality, an imaginary dimension that he calls

Ethernitv, a "NOWHERE, or SOMEWHERE, which is the same

thing" ( 1965: 248)--an interzone where the reference of a

sign does not describe, but conjures, the existence of the

real through the ur of simulation.

Ethernity resembles a

state of maximum entropp-a nullified condition whose

potential goes unmeasured, unobserved, its ei~enstate

corresponding to "the perplexity of a man outside time and

space, who has lost his[ ...] measuring rod, and his tuning

fork" ( 248 ) . Like the Maxwell Demon, the 'pataphysician

intervenes in such a void of thermodynamic equilibriurn,

sorting its randomly distributed atoms into narrowly

constructed forms (249)--creating, in this case, a

spectroscope whose measurements cause a fiat lux ex nihilo.

Ethernity expresses a reality built out of thought

alone--a realm whose fantastic substance, "ether," refers

not only to the hypothetical medium that can transport

lightwaves through a vacuum (as is the case for the photic

theory of Kelvin), but also to the anaesthetic vapour that

can transform awareness in an addict (as is the case for the

mystic vision of Jarry). Whether scientific or mythopoeic,

both kinds of ether provide an imaginary solution to the

problem of illumination. -Even light itself must express the

ontological expediency of an imagined paradigm. Just as

quantum physics has interpreted the act of measurement

itself the collapse of a mathematical wavefunction,

realizing reality rather than reporting it, so also does

'pataphysics reveal that "the function of navigators was to

make land" (199)--not to find it.

Ethernity is simply the milieu for al1 such imaginary

perception, be it a scientific mode1 or a novel literature.

Books there become an archipelago, where voyagers can travel

together from text to text, as though from isle to isle (be


it the land of Cack, of Ptyx, of Her, etc.).

Each port of

cal1 is a haven for the allegorical impressions of either an

artist or a writer, as if such motifs are "excellent

quintessences1 ...] brought back by inquisitive men from their

travels" (1965:203)--for example:

"[flrom Rabelais, the

little bells to which the devils danced during the tempest";

"from ~autréamont, the scarab, beautiful as the trembling of

hands in alcoholism" (1965:191). Such images provide a

Wunderkammern of uncanny specimens for an imaginary

scientist, who collects as though without exception, al1

cases of exception--al1 the rareties of teratism.

Ethernity presents to us a literary universe to be

explored by a science that must learn in turn to explore

itself as literary; consequently, the exploits of Faustroll

in Ethernity resemble the voyages of Gulliver in Laputa or

even the adventures of Alice in Wonderland (insofar as al1

three fantasies use a nomad journey to lampoon a royal

science)-. Swift and Carroll, however, use such nonsense to

expose the aporias of the rational on behalf of reform,

whereas Jarry uses his nonsense to induce his own visions of

the schizoid on behalf of revolt. What Swift berates in the

science of Boyle and Hooke (eclecticism), Jarry admires in

the science of Boys and Kelvin. What Carroll debates on the

surface with Humpty Dumpty (amphilogiem), Jarry extends to


the extreme with Bosse-de-Nage.

What Alice and Gulliver

fear to become (schizonoiac), Faustroll already is.

Faustroll is a 'pataphysical philosopher, who has gone

beyond good and evil in order to invoke the reverie of a

schizoid superman--a parodic version of Zarethustra, the

kind of exceptional personality that Sengle might describe

as one of the "superior intelligences, who are few," but who

are often mistaken for the infirm or the insane since "the

bourgeois is not learned enough to study the body and the

scientist is too learned[...]to

study the spirit"

(1989:106). The Ubermensch defies al1 such Manicheanism,

fusing the sou1 of a supernal "Faust" with the body of an

infernal "Troll, "' parodying the telic myths of Darvinian

evolution by collating beast, human, and deity into an

apostate "tetragon" (1965:254)--the Hephistophelian image of

an hermaphroditic satyr, for whom God is just an artifice of

humanity--"man to an improper degree" ( 1965: 183) .'

Faustroll is quite literally, a literary creation, his

body becoming a book--a papyrus cadaver that can unscroll to

divulge the secrets of a poetic vision, "his eyes, like two

capsules of ordinary writing-ink" (1965:9).

Just as Jarry

makes a spectacle of himself, adopting the mannerisms of his


characters (particularly Ubu), so also does the Ubermensch

embody 'pataphysics through the syntax of his own corpus--a

pidouille perhaps, which charts "the progress cf the solid

future entwined[...]in spiralst' so that, "[llike a musical

score, al1 art and al1 science were written in the

curves[ ...], and their progression to an infinite degree was

prophesied therein" (1965:245).

For such a superman, whose

life is a text that displays the grammar of flux and flow,

language itself becomes an absurd vessel--a sieve of words,

set adrift upon the oceanic surface of a protean reality.

Faustroll indeed sets sail in such a ship, whose

manifest does not itemize the ballast of a boat so much as

the content of a book:

its hvpertext of influence--a

literal "network" where the science of Boys and the poetry

of Lear can fuse into a conceit about language.

While Lear

writes nonsense about the Jumblies, who "went to sea in a

Sieve, they did,/ In a Sieve they went to seatl (l947:7l),

Boys proves that, despite such an absurd notion, the surface

tension of water can indeed support a sieve: "[tlhis

experimentl ...] illustrates hou difficult it is to

write[ ...]p erfect nonsense" (29). Boys, however, does not

make sense of a poem so much as get stuck in its mesh.


Jarry, such a sieve is slso a trope for a semiotic gridwork

--a chart riven with holes, its network able to rest upon

the superfice of reelity but unable to hold its substance.

Faustroll regards this reality as the surface tension

of either an elastic film or a crystal skin-whatever

constitutes a superf icial experience, whose sol ipsism

requires a mathesis sinaularis in order to accommodate the

specificity of each perspective.

Regular science must

standardize such experience, according to the substantive

metaphysics of a capital economy, so that each viewpoint can

be replicated and substituted for every other viewpoint.

Units of scale function like rates of value in a monetary

standard so that to measure is to judge the whole by one

piece--to make one case of exception the basis for al1 other

conceptions. The science of 'pataphysics, however,

expresses amazement at the very arbitrariness of such

measurement, arguing that the generality of such standards

must always efface the speciality of any anomalies.

Faustroll defies this demand for uniform metrics by

acting out a spectacle of hyperbolic exectitude in order to

force each unique standard to an extreme beyond al1

standards (hence, his absurd use of decimal exponents and

quantum diameters as units of scale).

He suggests that, if

science must pretend that its measure is no caprice, then

the act of def ining a unit of non-density according to a


quantitp of vacuum seems far less arbitrary than the act of

defining a unit of density according to a quantity of water

(1965:193). 1s not measurement just a morbid drive to

abolish the irony of such a vacuum, be it astronomical or

infinitesimal--the very irony that is the abyss of

'pataphysics itself 1s not science afraid to admit its own

cognitive innumeracy when faced with the abysmal vertigo, if

not the horror vacui, in the void of such a ~raumwelt~

'Pataphysics argues that every truth of science depends

upon such questions of scale, be they micro or macro (like

the schism in physics between atomic laws and cosmic lawsl.

Crookes, for example, has argued that a shift in scale rnight

cause an observer to rnistake both capillary action and

brownian motion for forces stronger than gravity ( 609 ) .

Citing Swift, Crookes even says that the ability to study

thermal combustion under secure conditions may depend upon

the dimensions of an observer: for lilliputians, chernistry

fails because they can generate only insufficient heat; for

brobdinagians, chernistry fails because they can generate

only superabundant heat (611). Citing Crookes, Jarry in

turn uses this imagery to explain 'pataphysical

perspectivism, depicting Faustroll as a miniature homunculus

who changes size i n order to explore the surface of a leaf.

Surface tension, when experienced at a such a small

scale, causes water to become a plastic solid rather than an

aqueous fluid, a "malleable glass" (1965:195), whose

exploded droplets are not wet and soft, but dry and hard,

like diamonds.

The ministurized 'pataphysician reveals that

even a raindrop can contain s microcosm, "a globe, twice his

size, through whose transparency the outlines of the

universe appeared to him gigantically enlarged, whilst his

own image, reflected dimlyl ...], was magnified" (195).


droplet is a metaphor for the eye itself, a fluid sphere, an

"ovoid myopia," whose lens does not inspect the real so much

as distort it, each drop "drawing along beneath it the image

of the tangential point of the universe[. . .], magnifying its

fabulous centertt (195)--in this case, the alibi for a

phantasmal solipsism:

the image of man himself.

Nietzsche argues that, when such a science studies the

real, science admires the true, not because the true grants

itself either a use or an aim, but because the true treats

itself as both a law and an end:

"the f aith in science,

which after al1 exists undeniably, cannot owe its origin to

such a calculus of utility; it must have originated in spite

of the fact that the[ ...] dangerousness of 'the will to

truth,' of 'truth at any price' is proved to it constantly"

(1974:281). The will to truth entails, but effaces, its own


will to error. For 'pataphysics, the threat of error finds

itself expressed through the three declensions of exception

(the anomalos, the svzyaia, and the clinamen)--three events

that involve a monstrous encounter, be it in the form of an

aporia, a chiasm, or a swerve--whatever takes on the

character of alterity in the aftermath of some accident.


The Princi~le of Variance

Anomalos is the first declension of exception:


anomaly of the aporia.

Differing from every other thing in

a systern that values the norm of equivalence--it serves the

will to disrupt. Jarry may posit this notion within his own

modernist context (the Ausnahrne in Nietzsche, or perhaps

even the Excluded in Fort), but such a principle of variance

does provide a pretext for postmodern philosophy about the

theme of paralepsis (for example, the su~~lement in Derrida,

the parasite in Serres, etc.)--excesses that replace what

they augment, operating against, but within, the limits of

the syst-em that must exclude them.

The anomslos is the

repressed part of a rule which ensures that the rule does

not work.

It is a difference which makes a difference and

is thus synonymous with the cybernetic definition of

interferent information--the very measure of surprise.

Nietzsche argues that, wherever life seemç repetitive,

poetry fulfills a desire for freedom, but wherever life

seems disruptive, science fulfills a desire for boredom:

"the first instinct of the knower is to search for rules,

although naturally enough with the confirmation of a rule

nothing is as yet 'known' ! --[flrom

this we get the

superstition of the physicists"--"[t]hey feel 'securey: but

behind this intellectual security stands the calming of

frightfulness: thev want rules because these strip the

world of its fearsomeness" (Babich 97) .6

What repeats has a

certain order:

it is an expected case, a reprise, and thus

poses no problem, because it implies the security of a

paredigrno-but what does not repeat has an uncertain order:

it is an excepted case, a surprise, and thus poses a

problem, because it implies the insecurity of a paralogy.

Nietzsche argues that " ' [ t] hings' do not behave

regularly, according to a rule" (1968:634).

Rules do not

curate events BO much as defend us from their threat. Rules

do not describe the anomaly of our reality so much as

restrain the anxiety of its mystery:

"Illet us bewere of

saying that there are laws in nature" for "[tlhere are only

necessities" (1974:168)--there is no decree, no thrall, no


Rules are simply induced as an expedient, not of

cognizance, but of ignorance.

For this reason, Jarry

criticizes the truth of such rules by arguing that, while

"[m]ost people have seen a certain phenomenon precede or

follow some other phenomenon most often, and conclude

therefrom that it will ever be thus[. . . ] , this is true only

in the majority of cases, depends upon the point of view,

and is codif ied only for convenience--if that" ( 1965: 193 ) .

Jarry argues that the laws of the universe are not

laws, but "correlations of exceptions, albeit more frequent

ones, but in any case accidental data, which reduced to the

status of unexceptional exceptions, possess no longer even

the virtue of originality" (1965:193).

Rules must efface

the idiocracy of the anomalos, but ironically such a rule

about rules already risks the anomaly of paradox itself.

While a metaphysical science must rule out exceptions, such

exceptions are the rule (in which case they are no longer

exceptions); instesd, the rule is itself the exception in a

'pataphysical science that rules out the rule.

The science

of 'pataphysics delights in such paradoxes because its logic

studies what logic exempts. As Nietzsche avers, "there

actually are things to be said in favor of the exception

provided that it never wants to become the rule" ( 1974: 131 ) .

Fort dramatizes this principle of variance in a kind of

'pataphysical encyclopaedia, whose itinerary bombards its

Victorian readers with bizarrerie, ironically documenting,

as though without exception, cases of exception, be they

climatological (tiny frogs, for exemple, falling from

temperate skies) or archaeological (iron tools, for example,

hailing from neolithic times)--case after case, in which

science ignores evidence in order to make aberrancies fit

the procrustean.'

His parodic theories about the as if of

extraterrestrial interventionisrn offers a forum, not to

decode exceptional phenornena, but to debunk scientific


No theorem, only decorum, prevents science from

considering the possibility of such an alien visit.

1s not

this visit but a trope for the arriva1 of anomaly itself

1s not truth but a dogma that must alienate the anomalos

Anomaly is, after all, like a stranger, estranged.

Whether damned (as in Fort), accursed (as in Bataille), or

ab-iect (as in Kristeva) , such anomaly refers to the anomie

of an excess, whose ambiguities transgress the rule that

divides identity f rom alterity .' For Baudrillard, hovever,

this metaphysics of anomie may not apply to a 'pataphysics

of excess because "[alnomaly is at play in an aleatory,

statistical field[ ...]of variations and modulations which no

longer know[ ... J transgression" ( 1990: 26 ) . For metaphysics,

the anomalos is an infraction of a limit (a difference in

specie), but for 'pataphysics, the anomalos is an aberration


from a curve (a difference in degree).

The anomalos is a

surprise, a mutation--a "simple apparition" without tragedy

or perfidy (26). Not criminalized, but relativized, it

reveals thfit everything has the potential to be anomelous.

Faustroll even goes so far as to define reality itself

as "that which is the exception to oneselfl' (l965:245), just

as Nietzsche might suggest that, becsuse this universe

constitutes an unlikely condition among an infinity of more

probable potential, "[tlhe astral order in which we live is

an exception," whose situation and duration has made

possible ''an exception of exceptions:

the formation of the

organic" (1974:168). Such an anomalos is the result not of

chance design, but of random errors-events

whose element of

surprise brings every rule to life in a reprise without

either purpose or refrain.

Such an anomalos dares science

to reconsider its margin of error, the trivial discrepancy

between diverse experiments, so that we might in turn

imagine a universe where nothing hsppens twice--instead

each event arises from its own set of exclusive accidents.

Sszsaia: The Princi~le of Alliance

S V Z Y R ~ is ~ the second declension of exception: the

syzygy of the chiasm.

Differing from every other thing in a


system that values the norm of difference--it serves the

will to confuse. Jarry may posit this notion within a

mediaeval context (the Coniunctia of Avicenna, or perhaps

even the Mysteriurn of Paracelsus), but such a principle of

alliance does provide a pretext for postmodern philosophy

about the theme of syncretism (for example, the chiasmus in

Derrida or the syzygy in Serres, etc.)--conceits which

conjoin as much as they disjoin, inverting, while equating,

the values of the binary that must support them. The

syzy~ia is the neglected part of a pair which ensures that

such a pair is neither united nor parted for more than an

instant. It coincides with the laughter that erupts when we

eliminate differences in order to imagine the incornpossible.

Jarry uses the s ~zv~ia to describe the synthesis of the

poetic and the noetic, as derived from a fragment, so that,

"during the syzygy of words[.,.,] one could have

reconstructed, through this facet, al1 art and al1 science"

(l965:245). The word "syzygy" normally refers to a

celestial alignment of three planets, two of which are at

the opposite antipodes of their orbit around a third. The

horizon that connects the two extremes of perihelion and

aphelion can provide a conceit for the dualism of conceit

itself--the coniunctia o~~ositorum not only between a

positive and its negative (this, not-this), but also between


such a binary relation and its plenary opposite.

The syzygy

of words reveals that language not only defines, but also

deletes, this distance between extremes. It assumes the

possibility of the incompossible: Plus-and-Minus ( 2 ).

Jarry suggests that, for "the dispute between the sign

Plus and the sign Minus," a philosopher can demonstrate "the

identity of opposites, by means of the mechanical device

called the phssick-stick" (1965:252).

More excremental than

instrumental, this syrnbol of power lampoons phallogocentric

representation. Not a priapic sceptre, but a toilet brush--

such a staff is an "uprooted phallus" (1965:lll) thst beats

the nomad koan, not the royal word, into its student.


device spins about its axis along a line that does not trace

out the cross of the law so much as cross out al1 trace of

the law:

"in each quarter of every one of your

rotations[ ...]y ou form a cross with yourself" (111).


device in motion both affirms and negates, becoming not only

an alchernical cipher for the holism of opposite parts, but

also a scientific symbol for a margin of probable error.

Lyotard also refers to this turning of a "bar which

separates the this from the not-this" (1993:15) when he

posits a linear device, whose stasis signifies a mandatory

division, but whose motion activates an aleatory confusion. 9


Just as Lyotard implies that such conjugality of revolution

can erase the temporality of difference, so also does Jarry

argue that the physicks-stick is a crank-shaft for a timemachine,

whose syzygy reveals that "there are neither nights

nor days," neither systole nor diastole--no "pendulum

movements" (1989:103), only this intense instant, atemporal

and libidinal. As Jarry argues: minus sign is ferninine;

plus sign is masculine--"[f]or the Geometer, these two signs

cancel each other out or impregnate each other, and there

resultsC...]their progeny, which becomes[ ...] zero, al1 the

more identical because they are contrary" (1965:252).

Daumal implies that such a s ~zs~ia repeats an Eastern

intuition, insofar as the equation of this and not-this

resembles what the Hindu cal1 Advaita--the negated duality,

in which "To know & = to know (Everything - X)" (l993:3l ).

While "[gletting this idea into your head will help you get

a firm footing in ['IPataphysics" (311, such an idea has

often evoked only the mystical vulgarism of the New Age, in

which the likes of Capra and Zukav can now popularize the

similarity between the taoist mysticism of the East and the

quantum mechanics of the West (so that, for example, the

ambiguity between yin and yang now offers an oriental

metaphor for the ambiguity between particle and waveform).

For Daumal, the absurdity of such extremes and their

equation is laughable--but this laughter is itself what

negates dualism and affirms syzygy, like a joyful wisdom. IF

Daumal writes that "'[p]ataphysical laughter[ ...] is the

one human expression of the identity of opposites," and "if

we ['Ipataphysicians often feel our limbs shaken by

laughter, it's the dreadful laughter from facing the clear

evidence[ ...] that al1 defined existence is a scandal"

(1995:28-29). Bosse-de-Nage, the laughing subhuman, is a

voice for such a syzygy. H i s "tautological rnonosyllable,"

ha ha, is a laughtrack for the sophistry of diffgrance, the

limit between differing and deferring:

"the two A 's differ

in space, when we write them, if not indeed in tirne, just as

two twins are never born together" (l965:228). Not simply

ltA juxtaposed to A," but "A = A,"

the syzygy of such a

guffaw is paradoxically both different and equivalent:

"[plronounced slowly, it is the idea of duality," but

"[pIronounced quickly[ ...] it is the idea of unity" (228).

Bosse-de-Nage responds to the absurd syzygy of physics

in a universe of undecidable uncertainty:ll after all,

quantum theories of symmetricality and reversibility almost

seem to suggest that such a reality tests our mundane wits

with its quantum puns. Each photon might be interpreted as

a point or a field.

Each electron moving forward through

time might also be interpreted as a positron moving backward

8 1

through time.

Does not Faustroll propose a theory of

gravity, in which "the fa11 of a body towards a center" is

the same as "the ascension of a vacuum towards a periphery"

(1965:193) Does not Sengle suggest that an infinitely

smooth surface is indistinguishable from an infinitely rough

surface (1989:105) The s ~ z y ~ simply i a ensures that such

ambiguity is preserved in a world where we can no longer

distinguish between reality and illusion.


The Principle of Deviance

Clinamen is the thi rd declension of exception:


decline of the swerve.

Detouring around every other thing

in a system that values the fate of contrivance--it


the will to digress.

Jarry rnay borrow this notion from a

classical context (the clinamen in Lucretius, or even the

parenklisis in Epicurus), but such a principle of deviance

also provides a pretext for postmodern philosophy about the

theme of - misprision ( for example, the détournement in

Derrida or the declination in Serres, etc.)--vagaries


diverge from what directs them, escaping the events of the

system that controls them.

The clinamen is simply the

unimpeded part of a flow which ensures that such a flow has

no fate.

Not unlike the spiral of Ubu or the vortex of

Pound, such a swerve is the atomic glitch of a microcosmic

incertitude--the symbol for a vital poetic, gone awry.


Lucretius writes that, "while the first bodies are

being carried downwards by their own weight in a straight

line through the void[ ...], they swerve a little from their

course" ( 113 ) , for without this uncertain swerve in space

and time (incerto tempore ferme incertisuue locis), "al1

would fa11 downwards like raindrops through the profound

void, no collision would take place[...]: thus nature would

never have produced anything" (113).

The clinamen involves

a brownian kinetics, whose decline defies inertia since such

a swerve must imply a change in vector without a change in

force. The clinamen represents the minimal obliquity within

a laminar trajectory.

The curve is a tangent to a descent,

but a tangent that defies al1 calculus since the curve is

itself a tangent composed of nothing but tangents ad

inf initum:

the volute rhythm of a fractai contour.

Lucretius resorts to such a swerve in order to posit a

choice between what Serres regards as two genres of physics:

"Venus, that is to say, nature; or Mars, that is to sey,

nature" (1982:98).

Venus denotes the eroticism of a nomad

paralogy, the volu~tas of a fluid dynamics (fold and flow),

whereas Mars denotes the necrotism of a royal paradigm, the

voluntas of a solid mechanics (rank and file). l2


has usually adopted the latter physics,13 insofar as it

murders to dissect, declaring martial law on behalf of

whatever is repestable and there fore predictable--the

foederi fati of a terroristic determinism.

Derrida implies,

however, that the clinamen deflects this mandatory destiny

into an aleatory ecstasy: "[tlhe clinamen of the elementary

principle[ ...] would be the pleasure principle" (1984:8)--a

libidinal rebellion:

artfulness disrupting lawfulness.

Serres argues that, for such modern physics, "[tlhe

clinamen is a principal element of homeorrhesis," not of

homeostasis (1982:119).

Atomic events do not be so much as



their equilibrium does not repeat so much as

Even though "the time of the clinamen is not

necessarily simultaneous with leaving the dead to bury the

dead" (99), such a swerve does provide a nomad cognate to

the royal concept of entro~~, be it in a flow of heat (as

defined by Boltzmann) or in a flow of data (as defined by


Just as Lucretius draws an analogy between atoms

(atomica) and words (littera), arguing that both substance

and utterance result from a random complex of combinations

and permutations (175), so also does Serres draw an analogy

between thernionics and cybernetics, arguing that both

sciences theorize the clinamen as either decay or noise.


Serres explains that, for Lucretius, any compound, be

it chemical or grammatic, results fram an aleatory act that

in turn mistakes itself post facto as the result of a

mandatory law: for example, "[tlhe alphabetical proto-cloud

is without law and the letters are scattered at random,

always there as a set in space, as language; but as soon as

a text or speech appears, the laws of good formulation,

combination, and conjugation also appear" (1982:114). I4


lawfulness can exist without such repetition; however, the

clinamen serves to interject turbulence into the reprise of

such lawful cycles in order to disrupt the flow of influence

from cause to effect.

As Derrida implies, such a swerve

evokes the very "atomssti~ue of the letter" ( 1984 : 10 ) , its

portmanteau of quantum pulsion and lingual turmoil, both of

which are ramified by poetry, if not unified by science.

McCaffery dramatizes such an atornystique by deploying

the clinamen as a semantic strategy in his esssy on the

'pataphysics of Zarathustra.

Just as Lucretius argues that

only the- clinamen of a minimal errancg divides the fire

(i~nes) from the firs (li~na), so also does McCaffery

transpose letters, inserting them or replacing them, in

order to divert the flow of his text with each typo.


increasing frequency of such miscreance eventually results

in s displsy of cacophasia so that, for example, the word

clinamen might become chinameq, cinnamen etc. (1997:16).

For Jarry, the wordplay of such deviance often takes the

form of the portmanteau (cornenidouille, palcontentes,

etc.)--words that do not abbreviate or congregate two

meanings so much as complicate their sequencing through an

act of misprision that parodies their linguistic precedents.

Bloom argues that, because such misprision allows a

poet to evade influence and become anomalous, "the study of

Poetic Influence is necessarily a branch of 'Pataphysics"

(1973:42). Influence is no longer an inter-reference, but

an interference, in which divertissement replaces

ressentiment. Precedent norms no longer inhibit subsequent

forms since "the clinamen stems always from a 'Pataphysical

sense of the arbitraryN--the "equal baphazardness" of cause

and effect:

"'[p]ataphysics proves to be truly accurate; in

the world of poets al1 regularities are indeed 'regular

exceptions'; the recurrence of vision is itself a law

governing exceptions" (42). What repeats is not a rule of

repetition and imitation, but a game of competition and

agitation, in which the clinamen is the smallest, possible

aberration that can make the greatest, potential difference.

The IrnaRinary Solution

'Pataphysics misreads metaphysics in order to disrupt

it , confuse it, or def lect it, transposing the relationship

between a royal paradigm and a nomad paralogy, until such a

philosophy of exceptions goes even so far as to misread


Subsequent 'pataphysicians (the Italian Futurists,

the French Oulipians , and the Canadian "Pataphysicians )

reinterpret their antecedent practitioners, misreading them

in order to avoid the normalization of such abnormalities.

Each predecessor is (mis)interpreted as a problem requiring

a solution. As Bloom observes, "[t]his sense is not

reductive, for it is the continuum, the stationing context,

that is reseen, and shaped into the visionary; it is brought

up to the intensity of the crucial objects, which then

'fade' into it" (42). In essence, each solution is itself

the catalyst for a phantasm that in turn becomes a problem.

'Pataphysics may be a science of imaginary solutions,

but this- imaginariness does not entai1 its insignificance

because, as McCaffery argues: "[tlhet the problem is a

pseudo-problem in no way nullifies the pursuit of a solution

for the pursuit in itself will evince the problematic nature

of both 'problem' and tsolution'" (1986:189). Deleuze

argues that a problem does not simply mean the failure of a


theorem, whose ineptitude or incertitude can vanish through

cumulative knowledge; instead, "[sjolutions are engendered

st precisely the same time that the problem determines

itself" (1990:lZl). Questions always define in advance the

regime of their answers.

The problem always persists in the

very paradigm that allows the solution to make sense as a


No enigma Fs solved so well that its status as an

enigma ceases to exist.

A solution is infinitely imaginary,

'Pataphysics implies that al1 problems threaten to

operate at the infinite disposa1 of a futile inquest.

Baudrillard goes so far as to suggest that the object (with

its fatal strategies of fascination) mey pose a problem

without solution for the subject (and its banal strategies

of explanetion) since attempts by science to render reaiity

more explicable and controllable always threaten to render

reality even more inexplicable and uncontrollable (1988:89).

Science gazes at a crystal that promises to answer al1

questions, but that instead captures science with a demand

for even- more questions. Like the evil genie feared by

Descartes or the free spirit loved by Nietzsche, the crystal

takes revenge upon the will to truth.

The subject tries to

solve the object, but meanwbile the object tries to dissolve

the subject, and ultimately the object always triumphs. i 5

'Pataphysics effectively reveals that this demand for

truth is only an imaginary solution to the deceit of such an

object. Nietzsche asks: "'Why do you not want to deceive'

especially if it should seem--and it does seem!--as if life

aimed at[ ...] deception, simulation, delusion" (1974:281-

282). Why believe in truth Why not believe in untruth

Why does belief in either case take itself so seriously

Why does belief in effect believe in itself Why not move

from the deceit of truth to the truth of deceit The

science of 'pataphysics suggests that, without the mendacity

of poetry, what the veracity of science reveals about the

borror vacui of the universe, the fact that delusions are

integral to al1 knowledge, must seem utterly nightmarish.

The value of poetry thus resides in its ability to play in

this void that the truth of science must find in the real.


Notes to Cha~ter 2

l~ietzsche affirms that "[i]t is[ ...]a diff icult

thingl. ..]to admit[..,Jthat the insect or the bird perceives

an entirely different world from the one thst man does, and

that the question of which of these perceptions of the world

is the more correct one is quite meaningless, for this would

have to have been decided previously in accordance with the

criterion of the correct perception, which means, in

accordance with a criterion which is not available"

(1979:86). No panoptic absolute provides a reliable

standard for the unremitting specificity of each truth.

'~arr~, like Nietzsche, implies that truth is a

sacred pharos, whose foundation rests upon a legacy of both

death and waste, its faecal beacon attracting the blind like

flies to the snare of its church--a monument built upon the

corpse of a comatose colossus who takes, as a limit for al1

knowledge, only the point of his exhaustion (1965:201).

Truth is a phallic asylum for such a lingual despot, insofar

as "ItJhis obeliscolychny [...]bas the form of some gesture

of command" (1989:96), consigning us to a sentence of

imprisonment, despite el1 pretense of enlightenment.

'~austroll provides a conceit for the poetic

wisdom in the alchemy of the lapis ~hiloso~horum, dispelling

limits, not only between the basic and the noble, but also

between the ontic and the semic--the very schism between the

vates and the lapis:

"'1 could easily transmute al1 things,

for I also possess this stone' (he showed it ta me, set in

one of his rings), 'but I have found by experiment that the

benefit extends only to those whose brain is that selfsame

stone' (through a watchglass embedded in the fontanel of his

skull he showed me the stone a second time)" (1965:236).

'~arr~ implies that, from the viewpoint of the

Ubermensch, evolution is a Sisypheen task not for a humanity

that must solve the futile problems of the species, but for

the divinity that must imagine more clever problems for the

species to solve (1989:135-136). Daumal even argues that

such natural selection is itself 'pataphysical, insofar as

it is tautological, stating that each form of l ife exists as

it is because, if it were otherwise, it could not exist

(32)--or-as Fort avers, the only evidence for fitness is

survival itself: "Darwinism: That survivors survive" (24).


'~odern physics has already striven to address

such horror vacui by adopting an almost 'pataphgsical

countenance when discussing the relationship between

position and momentum.

At an atomic scale, the measurement

of one value precludes concommitant knowledge about the

other value (such is the principle of uncertainty).

At the

cosmic scale, two measurements of one value may Vary if one

of the measurements occurs at an ultramassive position or at

a proxiluminal momentum (such is the principle of

relativityl. The act of measuring is no longer reassuring.

'~ietzsche ironically formulates a rule about

rules--a rule that breaks its own rules, insofar as he

dramatizes the very induction that he chastizes. Nietzsche

presents such a paradox in order to question the rules by

which rules can question, arguing that, despite such a

paradox, science nevertheless settles for rules that are

more reactive than creative. Science is a superstition that

vilifies theistic sentiment, but that nevertheless reifies

theistic-ressentiment, substituting a love of what is usual

(the banal), for a fear of what is unusual (the fatal).

'~ort, 1 ike Nietzsche, indulges in skeptical

sophistry, defining scientific anomalies in terms of

recursive exclusion--a paradox, in which, for a thing to be

real, it must excise itself from a whole in order to evince

itself as the whole:

"nothing can attempt to be, except by

attempting to exclude something else" ( 7). Like Jarry, Fort

uses ironic whimsy to argue sophistically that, "if al11 ...]

existence perceptible to us is the product of exclusion,

there is nothing that is perceptible to us that really is"

(7). A thing is only an effect of prejudicial distinction.

bisteva argues that the subject confronts

poetic anomaly in either one of two ways:

first, by

performing such fear (as Plato does), detaching oneself from

its cornpetitive potential to pervert reason into unreason;

second, by reforming such fear (as Aristotle does), engaging

oneself with its repetitive potential to convert unreason

into reason.

Aristotle convicts anomaly in order to demand

its contribution through the katharsis of communication.

Plato ev-icts anomaly in order to demand its retribution

through the pharmakos of excommunication (1982:16).


'~~otardescribes the turning-bar in a manner

that recalls the physick-stick, insofar as both types of

line-segment spin around their own axis according to a

non-Boolean logic in a non-Euclidean space--"a movement

yielding the following three properties:

the rotation takes

place on al1 the axes without exclusion, the central point

is itself displaced over the segment in an alestory way,

finally it is equally displaced in the supposed neutral

spacen and "[tlhus a surface is engendered, which is nothing

other than the labyrinthine libidinal band" (1993:15).

'O~aurnal argues that , " [ 'pl ataphysical laughter"

denotes an awareness of absurdist dualities--"it signifies

the subject's headlong rush toward its opposite object and

at the same time the submission[...]to

that law of becoming

according to which laughter is begotten" (1995:28-29). As

Sandomir argues:

"we inquire into laughter solely in terms

of s scientific explanation, and, what is more important, we

inquire into seriousness just as we inquire into

explanations--solely because seriousness and explanation

botb possess a ['lpataphysical stigma" (1960b:176).

8 os se-de-~a~e utters a "tautological

monosyllable" (196) that resembles the phatic phrases of

Socratic dialogue, the interruption acting as a punctuating

gesture of both affirmation and confirmation:


Nage was to[ ...] interrupt our conversation, where a pause

might be convenient, with his interjections" (199-200)--each

of which provides a laughtrack for the reader:

"Ha ha"

(196). Bosse-de-Nage in this respect resembles what Serres

might call "the third position" (1982b:78), whose exclusion

provides the pretense for the continuation of communication.

l2~artian physics defines a fluid force as the

exception to what Deleuze and Guattari call the Cornpars, a

quantal geometry of position--the monadic stomicum (1987:

369). Venusian physics, however, defines a rigid mode1 as

the exception to what Deleuze and Guattari call the Dispars,

a fractal geometry of momentum--the nomadic clinarnen

(1987:370). As McCaffery argues: "[a]toms[...] are m eta-

sengsical olganizations of[ . ..]p urwly imaained matrter,

[...]and as such prlovyde a 'patarphynsicl solautiob to the

abysmaticx olf msterila division" (1997:13).

13~eleuze and Guattari auggest that royal sciences

dismiss nomad sciences as "prescientific or parascientific

or subscientific" (1987:367), even though both sciences do

involve a kind of gnostic initiation, with their own rites

of passage, their own legacies of magic, both resorting to


imaginary solutions for customary problems.

Whereas royal

sciences involve procedures of deduction, induction, and

reproduction, for the sake of a general certitude, nomad

sciences involve procedures of abduction, seduction, and

transduction, for the sake of a special incertitude.

''serres argues that al1 laws for combining

(foedera coniunctorum) only arise after the fact of

combining (coniuncta foederum) so that , in ef fect , the

detection of order is simply the hindsight of chaos:


laws of nature corne from conjugation; there is no nature but

that of compounds.

In the same way, there are the laws of

putting together letters-atoms to produce a text.


laws, however, are only federation. The law repeats the

fact iteelf: while things are in the process of being

formed, the laws enunciate the federated." (1982:114)

'(~audrillard explains this idea by recount ing a

'pataphysical tale, i n which a rat has conditioned a

scientist to give it food whenever the rat has completed an

experimental task:

" [blased on tbis story you could

imagine, on the level of scientific observation, that the

experiment would have been faked-not

involuntarily altered

by the observer, but faked by the object, with the purpose

of amusement or vengeance[...], or better yet:

that the

object only pretends to obey the laws of physics because it

gives so much pleasure to the observert' ( 1990 : 84-85 ) .

Italian Futurism: A 'Pataphvsics of Machinic Exception

"[~]utomatism always embodies an irrational

projection of consci~usness[..~.]~ There is

a complete ['jpataphysics of the object

awaiting description here, a science of

imaginary technical solutions."

(Baudrillard 1996bA13)

" [Tl he unforeseen beast Clinamen e jaculated

ont0 the walls of its universe. tt

(Jarry 1965 : 238 )

The Machinic Future of Poetrj

Italian Futurists present the first case for the

surrationalism of the 'pataphysical, revising the structure

of exception in order to oppose the irrationalism of the

French Symbolists. Futurism responds to the avant-garde

pseudo-science of Jarry by inflecting the machinic

intensities of technological forms, arguing that exception

results from the collision of machines.

For Marinetti,

Futurism begins accidentally with such a mechanical

catastrophe: a carwreck that dramatizes the clinameq of a

swerve, complete with the anomalous intensity of its shock

(la scossa), its noise (le rumore), and its speed (la


Such an event implies that, from any havoc

wreaked by technology, there appears a route charted for


Such a 'pataphysical epistemology values the

uniqueness, if not the randomness, of surprise itaelf.

Marinetti aligns Futurism with the modern advent of a

cyborganic philosophy, in which an industry for hybridizing

the anthropic and the machinic might parallel an artistry

for hybridizing the poetic and the noetic:

"[w]e cooperate

with Mechanics in destroying the old poetry" (1991:75) since

"[wle want to make literature out of the life of a motor"

(95)--"[t]o listen to motors and to reproduce their

conversation^'^ (96).

Futurism simply resorts to the

metaphor of the machine in order to depict metaphor as a

machine, arguing that, since "[nlothing is more beautiful

than a great humming central electric station[.. .,] panels

bristling with dials, keyboards, and shining commutators,"

literature must learn to embrace the novelty of such

technological modernization:

"[tlhese panels are our only

models for the writing of poetry" (106).

Metaphor quite literally becomes a literary device, a

mechanical conveyance, whose meaning descends etymologically

(if not metaphorically) from the concept of vehicle (as the

Greek word, metapherein, "to transport," seems to suggest).

When Marinetti daims that "a roaring car[ ...]-- is more

beautiful than the Victors of Samothrace" (1991:49), he

begins to literalize this metaphorical equivalence between

the artiatry of a message and the industry of its transit. 1

If Futurism is the science that unleashes the accidental

potentials of such machinic novelty, does not Futurism

resemble the science by which Ubu might detonate his


mechanized automatons, the Palcontents

1s it not possible

to say in the spirit of Jarry that "'[plataphysics is the

science of these present or future beings and devices, along

with the power to use them" (1965:113)

Futurism transforms 'pataphysics into an a ~~lied

science, whose structure of exception has informed two kinds

of radical politics (be it Italian Fascism or Russian

Communism), both of which have responded poetically to the

machinery of industrial capitalism by trying to imagine a

revecsible transition from a poetrs about science to a

science of poetry.

This survey discusses such a sequence of

influence according to the metaphor of the accident, the

structure of an exception, in which the instruments of a

royal science are inadvertently set free by the experiments

of a nomad science (like the kind of extravagant speculation

seen later, for example, in the metamatics of Tinguely or

the carcrashes of Ballard):

delirious machinery that

revises the anomalos, the ssev~ia, and the clinamen through

its own machinic paralogy of shock, noise, and speed.

Marinetti drives an automobile recklessly in order to

declare that poetry must surrender itself to the Unknown:

"[such] words were scarcely out of my mouth when 1 spun my

car aroundl ...], and there, suddenly, were two cyclists

coming toward me, shaking their fists, wobbling like two

equally convincing but nevertheless contradictory arguments"

(1991:48). The cyclists pose a "stupid dilemma" (48),

requiring the motorist to swerve awey from them into a

ditch--an abject locale, where the poet in euphoria

proclairns a manifesto in favour of such disasters.


carcrash provides an allegory for an exorbitant spectacle of

avoidance, in which every poetic device must act like an

updated machine (a roadster) thet veers away from the

pass(ism- of an outdated vehicle (a bicycle): ''[ploetry must

be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces" (49).

Marinetti invokes the tropes of Jarry in order to fuse

science with poetry, but ironically enough, Jarry is himself

a notorious cyclist, who portrays a pair of supermen on



Christ racing uphill against a velocipede toward

a crucifixion (1965:124) and Marceuil racing overland

against a locomotive toward an electrocution (1964:79).

Marinetti seems to swerve from the path of such cyclists, as

if to deploy the 'pataphysics of Jarry in order to parody

the 'pataphysics of Jarry. Marinetti in effect dramatizes

the principle of Bloom that 'pataphysics is itself a science

of influence, insofar as Futurism must reverse the flou of

cause and effect, denouncing the nostalgia for a prototype

in order to replace it with the prognosis of an ectype.


antecedent device (the Futurist automobile) must evade the

obstacle of a precedent device (the Symbolist velocipede).

Burliuk has observed that, despite such antagonism,

"[elvery Symbolist has a Futurist tucked under his srrn"

(96)--particularly when we take into account that Jarry (a

friend to Symbolists) does indeed inspire Marinetti (an

enemy to Symbolists).

Both Futurism and Symbolism do

criticize science 'pataphysically by proposing a

synaesthetic transvaluation of rationalism, but Marinetti

must, nevertheless, insist upon staging a duel (if not a

race) between Futurism and Symbolism, given that he plays a

game of chicken in order to see which artist, which driver,

first loses the nerve to enact a collision between two

different categories of vehicle that can convey poetic



Marinetti values the sport of such a conflict, in

which his respect for a 'pataphysical precursor at the same

time clashes with his disdain for a 'pataphysical precursor.

Marinetti proclaims that "[wle have even dreamed of one

day being able to create a mechanical son, the fruit of pure

will, a synthesis of al1 the laws that science is on the

brink of discovering" (1991:83). Evoking the story of

Frankenstein, in which the creator (a prototype) and the

monster (an ectype) transpose their roles through a

precession of simulacra, Futurism strives to imagine its own

brand of celibate creation. Whereas Jarry is perhaps the

kind of robot child that Marinetti wishes to father, Jarry

is in fact the father of the robot child that Marinetti is.

As Jarry observes, "[tlhe Machine is born of the ashes of

the slave" ( 1965: 112 ) . Like a dangerous supplement that

almost anticipates the McLuhanite theory of auto-emendation

and auto-amputation, a machinic tool in the future augments,

then replaces, an anthropic limb in the past.

Marinetti demands that this hybrid device of machinic

metaphors must forge the industries of tomorrow in order to

abolish the forgeries of yesterday.

Futuriem must practice

a "hygienic forgetfulness" (1991:105) that amounts to a

literal breakins of records (in both senses of the term),


destroying not only standards for performance, but also

histories of performance, not only ascending past a limit

(with ever more energy), but also rescinding the limit that

is the past (with ever less rnemory).

Futurism disavows the

~assbisrn of an obsolete technique for the sake of a

synchronistic disappearance, advocating the destruction of

museums, for example, on the assumption that they are

nothing more than the "absurd abattoirs of painters and

sculptors ferociously macerating each other with color-blows

and line-blows, the length of the fought-over walls" ( 49 ) .

Futurism in effect aspires to imitate the machinic

graffiti of Faustroll, who devastates a museum with "the

Painting Machine," a revolving gyroscope that whirls at

randorn through "the Palace of Machines," mechanically

vandalizing masterpieces:

"it dashed itself against the

pillars , swayed and veered in inf initely varied directions,

and followed its own whim in blowing ont0 the walls' canvas

the succession of primary colors ranged according to the

tubes of- its stomach" (1965:238).

The Painting Machine

(which actuslly bears the name Clinamen) prefigures the

'pataphysical technologies of Tinguely (particularly the

metamatic entitled Homaae to New York, a calliope for

painting pictures at random while destroying itself inside

the Museum of Modern Art).

Such a device swerves through an

aesthetic tradition, wreaking havoc upon its artifacts.

Tinguely builds devices that fuse the detritus of both

artistry and industry into an assemblage of incompatible

accessories, al1 of which sabotage their own instrumentality

(as if to suggest that, like a 'pataphysical science, such a

technological machine generates itself from excess debris

used, capriciously and incompatibly, to generate more excess

debris) .' What Tinguely regards as a " joyful" machine

(Hulten 56) is merely the product of what Nietzsche regards

as a "joyful" science.

The machinic delirium of such

epistemic vandalism signifies a cornpetition between poetic

tropes that collide and collude in order to create the

clinamen of an artistic accident--an event that sets free

each part of the device itself (including its user). As

Tinguely might claim, such a "machine is[ ...] an instrument

that allows me to be poetic" (Hulten 56).

Fascism Versus Communism

Shershenevich observes that "[tlhe Futurists do not

take you %O,'

but tfrom"' so that "the cannonball, once

fired, gets wild and describes a curve (excesses[ ...])," its

detours always leading away f rom the capitalist ic

philistinism of the bourgeoisie (153-154). Whether Italian

or Russian, both pedigrees of Futurism have reacted

'pataphysically to the age of industrial automation by

divorcing the project of science from the program of

capital, doing so through the politics of either Fascism or

Communism (even though both of these political movements

have generally dismissed Futurisrn in favour of a bourgeois

aesthetic: realism itself). Like the Painting Machine,

Futurism unleashes uncontrollable potentialities, waging s

randorn battle, in which a subaltern science of experimental

reason subverts a dominant science of instrumental reason.

Careening through the archive of history, the clinamen

of 'pataphysics precipitates a cyclical reversa1 of

influence so that, as Khlebnikov might argue, "science is

now following the path that language has already taken"

( 378 ) . Poetry inspires a scientif ic endeavour that poetry

in turn becomes.

Just as Jarry inspires Marinetti (whose

poetry evades a French precursor), so also do the Italian

Futurists inspire the Russian Futurists (whose poetry evades

an Italian precursor); moreover, the Russian Futurists go on

to inspire the Russian Formalists (whose science is based

upon a Futurist precursor), just as the Russian Formalists

go on to inspire the French Structuralists (whose science is

based upon a Formalist precursor). For Futurism, these

ironic cycles of recursive influence merely comprise an

evasive history of warfare without any unilinear intention.


Marinetti claims that such warfare is itself "Futurism

intensif ied" ( 1991 : 131 )--perhaps because (as Deleuze and

Guattari might suggest), war is the su~~lement of a marginal

episteme, occurring wherever a royal science clashes with a

nomad science ( 1987 : 355 ) :

the former, building implements

(which control energy through instrumental tasks); the

latter, building srmaments (which unleash energy through

experirnental risks) .' While Benjamin argues thst , for such

radical warfare, "alienation has reached such a degree that

it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic

pleasure" (242), the very sesthetic that has served what he

vilifies (Fascisrn) has at the same time served what he

endorses (Communism). More hyperbolic than antonyrnic in its

logic, Futurism counteracts the atrocity of capitalist

automation with an even greater atrocity.

Heidegger observes thst the millenary problem of

technology, the danger of the Ge-stell (421, always already

involves an imaginary solution throuah technology: ie.

every problem implies a fatefül paradox, since the solution

to such a problem ie itself a problem of the ~roblem.' The

potential for a transition from danger to safety stems from

the insight of a clinamen, a turning away that is itself an

Einkehr an "in-turning," if not an Einblitz, an "inflashing"

(41): "[plerhaps we stand already in the shadow

cast ahead by the advent of this turningW--"[wJhen and hou

it [cornes] to pass after the manner of a destining no one

knows" (41) because "[tlhe turning of the danger cornes to

pass suddenly" (44)--as if by accident.


studies the exception of such accidents (in order to traffic

in the secret order of their conceits).

'Pataphysics regards the insight, the Einblitz, of such

accidents as a collision between two alien orders that

compare tbeir disparate events and exchange their desperate

images in a mutual clash of misprision.

For Marinetti, the

accident of such a clinamen becomes a dynamic synonym for an

epiphany, an Einkehr, that contributes to the cataclysm of a

self-propelled self--the automobilitv, not only of a device,

but also of its driver.

For Marinetti, the carcrash that

gives birth to Futurism merely enacts the anomalous

intensity of such an insight by providing the basis in the

future fer an imaginary philosopby of 'pataphysical

speculations. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, "there are

itinerant, ambulant sciences that consist in followina a

flou in a vectorial field across which sin~ularities are

scattered like so manv 'accidents' (problems)" (1987:372).

Paradigms in Collision

Ballard has, of course, extended this 'pataphysical

speculation of Marinetti to its most baroque extreme by

imagining a future science, in which automobile collisions

can reveal a portent about the exceptional spontaneity of

objects themselves.

Dissecting accidents with the precision

of a scientist, Ballard stages an "atrocity exhibition" ( 9),

in which a car, like the vehicle of metaphor itself, becomes

aesthetic only when it is also ballistic.'

Its functian

along a route (as a mode of transportation) must succumb to

a dysfunction along a detour (as a mode of transformation).

For Baudrillard, such a vehicle travels "a path leading more

quickly than the main rosd, or leading where the main road

does not lead or, better yet, and to parody ~ittrg in a

['lpataphysical mode, 'a path leading nowhere, but leading

there faster than the others"'


Baudrillard observes that, for Ballard, "the Accident

is everywhere" since "[ilt is no longer the exception to a

triumphal rationality, it has become the Rule, it has

devoured the Rulew--"[i]t is no longer even the taccursed

share,' the one conceded to destiny by the system itself";

instead, "[elverything is reversed" (1994b:113). The

accident reveals a 'pataphysical promiscuity between


uncorrelated occurrences--their ability to collide on a whim

into a potential infinity of exceptional permutations:

"[ilt is the Accident that gives form to life, it is the

Accident[ ...] that is the sex of life" (113).

The accident

is "[tlhe only strategy[ ...] of [']pataphysics[ ...]; that is,

a science-fiction of the system's reversal against itself at

the extreme limit of simulation, a reversible simulation in

a hyperlogic of death and destruction" (1993a:4-5).

Ballard has implied that, for Jarry, such collisions

almost reveal an economy of coincidental synchronicity where

unrelated incidents relate to each other as if in a poetic


for example, "Christ's crucifixion could be

regarded as the first traffic accident-certainly

if we

accept Jarry's happy piece of anti-clericalism" (1990:25).

Jarry compares the golgotha (with its stations of the

crucifix) to a velodrome (with its pitstops for a bicycle),

subjecting the story of Christ to a clinamen, equating the

crucifixion with a "deplorable accident" in a bikerace

(1965:124), just as Ballard subjects this story by Jarry to

a clinameq, equating the assassination of Kennedy with a

"deplorable incident" in an autorace ( 1990 : 108 ).' Indeed,

the very correlation between these two writers almost seems

to dramatize their thematization of accidental coincidence.


Jarry and Ballard in both cases depict a statesman's

death as a sportsman's event, insofar as a vehicular

collision occurs, not only between two racers on a course,

but also between two genres of speech, if not between two

e~ochs of poetry.

Like Jarry, Ballard tells a 'pataphysical

story that swerves away from a metaphysicsl history, but

like Marinetti, Ballard also tells a 'pataphysical story

that swerves away from a 'pataphysical history.

Both kinds

of swerve involve the sudden excursion away from the

influential through an execution of the influentiab-the

regicide, so to speak, of either a messiah or a monarch.

What Futurism regards as the hygiene of warfare refers to

this conflict in the anxiety of influence, a conflict in

which the poet stages a militant accident, pitting one

technique, one "technology," against another.

Futurism resorts to the clinamen of such accidents1

collisions in order to divert the anxiety of influence into

the ecstasy of exception, Such a clinameq transforms the

Oedipal metaphysics of ressentiment into the non-Oedipal

'pataphysics of divertissement.

The Oedipal subject is

atomized and dispersed in a traject rather than localized

and coalesced around an object.

The royal monument of the

ego merges with the nomad movement of a car so that, in

effect, the auto of the self is propelled into its o wn



The clinamen of this subjective dispersion evokes a

cyborganic schizonoia7--what Marinetti might cal1

fisicofollia, or "body-madness" (1991:128), the ecstasy of a

'pataphysicisn, for whom " [tlhis new drama of Futurist

surprise and geometric splendor is a thousand times more

interesting[ . . . ) than human psychology" ( 106 ) .

Marinetti equates the force of industrial automation

with the violent desires of the unconscious itself--the

ecstasy of a machinic accident that has corne to dramatize

the svzv~ia of both the erotic and the necrotic:


they ssy, are truly mysterious" for "[tlhey have whims,

freakish impulses" (1991:99), expressing the kind of

libidinal intensity seen, for example, in the autoerotic

accidents described by Ballard.

Futurism imagines an

impossible technology, in which every device is a sex-toy

that can destroy thought itself (not unlike les machines

malthusiennes of Jarry or les machines cglibataires of


What such ' pataph~sicians have called "bachelor

machines-," Deleuze and Guattari have called "desiring-

machines" (1983:l)--deviant devices, whose extravagance

evokes al1 the ecstatic tortures of shock, noise, and speed.

The Shock of Exception

Carrouges suggests that "[al bachelor machine is first

of al1 an improbable machine" (1975:21), an apparatus of


"felvery bachelor machine is first of al1 a

['Ipataphysical machine, or a patamachine" (44). Such an

apparatus does not repeat any mode1 of the erotic in which

the erotic becomes a means to repeat:

"the bachelor machine

is the erotic form of malthusianism" insofar as the device

perverts the values of functional repetition, opposing al1

forms of love that provide an alibi for replicative

engineering. Whether electric or artistic, the shock (la

scossa) generated by such 8 device short-circuits the laws

that forbid perpetual motion and libidinal action.


bachelor machines inflict the shock of a nomad science upon

the mastery of devices:

the royal mandate, not only to

construct a machine, but also to determine its purpose.

Duchamp has, of course, provided the seminal pretext

for such a machine in his vitreal diptych, The Bride

Strip~ed Bare BY Her Bachelors. Even--a window, through

which voyeurs might witness a saderotic collision, postponed

in the hyperspace of an alternate dimension:

the upper

panel depicting the Bride (built £rom Draft Pistons fuelled

by the combustion of an ecstatic gasoline); the lower panel


depicting the Bachelors (built from Malic Moulds attached to

an array of diverse devices:

a Water Wheel, a Chocolate

Grinder, a Butterfly Pump, etc.).

Jerry-rigged from Jarry-

rigged ideas, this blueprint of schizoid gadgetry dramatizes

the shock of coincidental correlations (the clinsmen of

which is only highlighted by the fact that the glass itself

has since become riven with cracks--the result of a jolt

suffered during vehicular transport).

Anastasi suggests that Duchamp uses this machine to

perform a clinamen upon the devices of Jarry.

Just as Jarry

deploys the electric-chair of The Supermale in order to

imagine a pseudo-science of perpetual motion, so also does

Duchamp resort to the electric-motor of The Bachelors in

order to imagine a pseudo-science of libidinal action--the

as if of what Duchamp might cal1 a science of hs~o~hvsics

(Anastasi 88).

Such a science permits Duchamp to regard

each of his own impossible hypotheses as an, otherwise

imaginable, condition that has merely become detached from

the alternate dimension of its own possibility:

" 1 was

interested in introducing [into rny work] the

precise[...Jaspect of science," but "[ijt wasn't for love of

science that 1 did this; on the contrary, it was rather in

order to discredit it, mildly, lightly, unimportantly" ( 39).


Carrouges has suggested that such a science plots the

fantastic inversion of an Oedipal dynamic, since the Bride,

not the Bachelor, acts as a saderotic superego that tortures

a masochist id (1954:45); however, Szeemann observes that

"the Bachelor Machiner. . . ]as suggested by Carrouges [ has] in

part been vehemently rejected by the 'pataphysicians on

account of the 'upper inscription' which exerts an influence

on the Bachelors and determines their fate" (11).


still deploys an Oedipal paradigm to describe what Deleuze

and Guattari insist is an non-Oedipal artifice: "[a]

genuine consummation is achieved by the new machine, a

pleasure that can be rightly called autoerotic, or rather

automatic: the nuptial celebration of a new alliance, a new

birth[ . . .] , as though the eroticism of the machine liberated

other unlimited forces" (1983:18). 8

Bachelor machines amplify la scossa of sensation to a

nullpoint of synaesthetic indifference where any hierarchy

of experience, be it torture or ecstasy, disappears

altogether, giving rise instead to an infinitive series of

positive traits that never express a definitive system with

negative values.

Machines with such freedom never have to

prove their ability, since they fulfill no real purpose, no

true command,

For this reason, Brock suggests that such

'pataphysial instruments constitute the machinic solution to


a chimeric problem:

they are "mental machines the imaginary

working of which suffices to produce a real movement of the

mind" ( 44 ) , and " [ t ] O operate the world of Bachelor Machines

means taking the world only as we perceive it" (81),

regarding reality, not as a metsphysical substance, but as a

'pataphysical superf ice:

a (dis )simulation.

Certeau suggests that, within such a paralogy, bachelor

machines perform their ecstatic tortures not upon a victim

so much as upon a medium, the shocking violence acted out

not semantically beyond language, but syntactically within

language (88)--against the very machinery of language,

challenging the productive capacity of this machine to

displey the world of the as is, while emphasizing the

seductive capacity of this machine to invent a world of the

as if.

Lyotard makes a similar argument when he claims that

the bachelor machine inhabits an imaginary dimension of

dissimulating machinations, providing the basis for a

sophistic alternate to metaphysics itself:

"we have to

choose which camp to be in, as did[...]Jarry[.,,]and


the Sophists against the Philosophers, [,..]the

Bachelor machines against industrial mechanics" (1990:49).

Lyotard argues that such a device does not exploit

nature through a use (as gadgetry does) nor does such a


device destroy nature through a war (as weaponry does);

instead, such a device entraps nature through an art--the

deception of simulation: "it plays a trick on these forces,

being itself less strong than they are, and making real this

monstrosity: that the less strong [must] be stronger than

what is stronger" (l990:42). The word "machine," in fact,

stems from the Latin word machina, meaning "trickeryl'--a

device to deceive, as if the machine reveals that, for the

as if, al1 orders are invertible and al1 series are

reversible: " [ t ]O every discourse there must be another

opposing it in a rigourously parallel manner, but leading to

the opposite conclusion: sophistics is above al1 the art of

making these[ ... ] duplicitous speeches, dissoi logoi" (47). 9

Marinetti demands that such a poetic wisdorn create the

kind of "matter whose essence must be grasped by strokes of

intuition, the kind of thing that the physicists and

chemists can never do" (1991:95) because, "[dlespite the

most skillful deformations, the syntactic sentence always

contains-a scientificl ...]p erspective absolutely contrary to

the[ . . . jemotional perspective" ( IO8 ).

Science has often

resorted to a grammatical rationality, in which the

literary-line of poetry must become the assembly-line of

science, but Futurism renounces this linear syntax for the

sake of a "freespeechl' (la parole in liberttk) that no longer

serves this industrial mechanics. Such an imagination

without puppetstrings (l'immaginazione senza fili) no longer

follows the "wire" of syntax, but instead mimicks the noise

of radiostatic as transmitted by a haywired wireless.

The Noise of Exception

Deleuze and Guattari argue that, because "[dlesiringmachines

work only when they break down, and by continually

breaking down" (1983:8), such machines always constitute a

system of interruptions, in which every component behaves

like a clinamen:

"[ejvery machine functions as a break in

the flow in relation to the machine to which it is

connected, but at the s ame time is also a flow itself[ . . . ]in

relation to the machine connected to it" (36). What Deleuze

and Guattari define in terms of mechanical disruption,

Serres might define in terrns of a cyborganic parasitism,

since both concepts signify a "noisiness," whose interferent

perturbance, not only subverts the redundancy, but also

enriches-the complexity, of any system (be it the mathetic

codes of cornputers, the semiotic codes of societies, or even

the biologic codes of lifeforms). 1 O

Serres deploys such tropes in his own effort to insist

that, ultimately, "[nloise is the basic element of the


software of al1 our logic" (1995:7). Noise is intrinsic to

every system that regards it as extrinsic to its own system:

in other words, "science is its own noise with itself, it

produces its noise from itself" (136), doing so until it

cannot hear its own noise, let alone its own words, because

of al1 the noise that it makes through the controversies of

its contradiction:

"noise[ ...] is at the boundaries of

physics, and physics is bathed in it" (13-14). Noise

provides a metaphor for the as if of al1 that is possible,

yet unthought.

It denotes the Traumwelt of a (~arakite--a

marginal location where a nomad science attacks a royal

science: there, a machinic praxis always arises, as if by

chance, from a machinic parapraxis.

Futurism values such mechanized parasitism, insofar as

Marinetti argues that, just as "[m]icrobes[ ...] are essential

to the health of the intestines," so also is there "a

microbe essential to the vitality of art" (1991:97).

Futurism equates this microbe with the parasite of a

clinamen--the ' pataphysical turbulence of noise ( le rumore).

Unlike 'metaphysics, which values music, not noise, in the

syntax of reason, 'pataphysics inverts this system of

values, equating le rurnore with the novelty of snomaly-

hence, we see the use of onomatopoeia in the poetry of

Marinetti, who mimics the kind of symphonic cacophony that

Russolo, the Futurist composer, evokes with his own


"machines create today such a large number of

varied noises that pure sound, with its littleness and its

monotony, now fails to arouse any emotion" ( 5 ) .

Marinetti thus attempts to arouse such emotion with an

automated invective that abolishes standard grsmmar in order

to evoke the "zang-tuuum tuuumb orchestra of the noises of

wsr swelling with anger under a note of silence" (1987:79).

Just as Marinetti privileges telegrammatic abbreviations

enhanced by such sound-effects as "2000 steam pregnancies

tata~loomploom flac flac" ( 1987: 63) ,11

so also does Russolo

replace the antiquated repertoire of symphonic sonograms

with "the rumblings and rsttlings of engines breathingt ...],

the rising and falling of pistons, the stridency of

mechanical saws" (8). Such noise is more surrational than

irrational, providing the basis for what Khlebnikov might

cal1 the zaum of a "transrational" language (the zaumn~i

iazsk) --not nonsense, but " beyonsensef1--a "language si tuated

beyond the boundaries of ordinary reason" (383).

Khlebnikov suggests that, for science, the noisiness of

zaum can no longer be dismissed as an exceptional


"[tJhe plenitude of language must be analyzed

in terms of fundamental units of 'alphabetic verities,' and


then for these sound elements we may be able to construct

something resembling ~endeleev's law or Moseley's law--the

latest achievements of the science of chemistry" (376).

Like the rumore of Italian Futurism, the zaum of Russian

Futurism not only attempts to disrupt the basis for a royal

science of the past, but also attempts to provide the basis

for a nomad science of the future.

Zaum in effect attempts

to transmit the noise, le rumore, of the bachelor machines

in order to produce a concomitant 'pataphysics for such

linguistic technology. What is noise in the paradigm of

nostalgia is music in the paralogy of prognosis.

Tynyanov observes that the zaum of Russian Futurists

might provide the poetic foundation for the noetic

enterprise of the Russian Formalists (who resort to such

poetry for examples of concepts that science might deploy in

the study of poetry itself) (153). Formalism almost verges

upon the 'pataphysical insofar as its scientif ic evaluation

of poetry privileges the novelty of anomaly--the surprising

noises in the alienation effect of ostranenie.


Futurism, such Formalism tries to use the language of

scientific rnethodology in order to examine the neglected

machinery of language itself, not the word as sign, but the

word as such (slovo kak takavoe). Such a machine embodies a

'pataphysical retroversion that does not simply use its


devices to convey a narrative meaning, but uses such meaning

as an excuse to deploy innovative devices.

Tynyanov almost appears to advocate a 'pataphysical

literariness when he suggests that, "if new phenomena are to

emerge in literature, what is needed is relentless

intellectual activity, and belief in it, together with the

scientific processing of material-even

if such work is

unacceptable to science" (153). Tynyanov observes, for

example, that Khlebnikov often resorts to the clinamen of a

scientific misprision in order to generate the novelty of

poeticized exceptions:

"[ploetry is close to science in its

methods--this is what Khlebnikov teaches" (153)--"[m]inor

mistakes, 'chance features,' explained by the old academics

as a deviation caused by incomplete experimentation, serve

as a catalyst for new discoveries:

what was explained by

'incomplete experimentation' turns out to be the action of

unknown lawstl ( 150 ) .

Tynyanov implies that "[ploetry must be as open as

science is in facing phenomena" so that "when it cornes

across a 'chance feature,' it must reorganise itself so that

the chance feature ceases to be chance" (154).


also argues that " [a] misprint, born involuntarily frorn the

typesetter's will, suddenly gives meaning to a new entity;


it is one of the forms of collective creativity and may thus

be hailed as a desirable assistance to the artist" (381-

382). Such a clinamen draws attention to the material

nature of a semantic medium, revealing, for example, a

'pataphysical resemblance between syntax and optics, the

letter Z depicting "the equality of the angle of incidence

to the angle of reflection" (338)--almost as if the clinamen

is itself a flash of deviant insight, whose tropes of

deflection and refraction take place at the speed of light.

The Speed of Exception

Baudrillard observes that, for 'pataphysics, history

escapes from the gravity of the real in order to experience

what Virilio might cal1 "dromomania" (4)--the ecstatic

velocity of simulation. Marinetti dramatizes such a

millenial principle of 'pataphysics, insofar as he exalts la

velocitk of the clinamen and the highspeed collision of its

bachelor machines:

"[olne must kneel before the whirling

speed of- a gyroscope compass:

20,000 revolutions per

minute" (1991:104); "[olne must snatch from the stars the

secret [that might] let us match their speeds to escape from

a greeter star or to strike a smaller one" (104). The

rotary engine of such a per~etuum mobile calls to mind the

physick-stick in Jarry or the turning-bar in Lyotard-


devices that promise to break the second leu of thermo-

dynamics through an infinitized expenditure of energy. 12

Jarry deploys the trope of such a pervetuum mobile in

order to depict the allegorical competition between two

genres of dromomanic technology: a bicycle-tesm and an

express-train--the former representing the art of what Jarry

might call "old cyclophile hagiographers" (1965:123); the

latter representing the art of what Marinetti might call

"the great Futurist Railroad' (1991:55), such a race

demonstrates the efficacy of Perpetual Motion Food, "a fuel

for the human machine that [might] indefinitely delay[ ...]

nervous fatigue, repairing it as it is spent" (1964:4).

Such a race provides an allegory for the triumph of science

over its own entropic necrosis.

Just as the cyclist, who is

a cadaver, can nevertheless pedal faster than ever, despite

having expired, so also does science represent a vertiginous

expenditure that thrives paradoxically upon its own decline.

Jarry and Marinetti equate the as if of such a

dromomanic technology with a scientific revolution, whose

history defies the royal order of causality itself.

Inspired by Wells, for example, Jarry describes "[a] Machine

to isolete us from Duration" (1965:115)--a time-machine,

whose three gyrostats rotate so fast that they immobilize


the mechanism in the hyperspace of an alternate dimension.

While Jarry may indulge in 'pataphysical speculations about

the manufacture of such a bachelor machine, the device can

exist only in the interzone of a surrational imagination.

Such a device strives to provide irnaginary solutions to its

own problematic temporality.

Just as Cubism depicts objects

from several positions at once in order to defy the limits

of space, so also does Futurism imagine objects from several

momentums at once in order to defy the limits of time.

Wells observes that "[wle cannot[ ...] appreciate this

machine, any more than we can the spoke of a wheel spinning,

or a bullet flying through the air," for "fiIf it is

travelling through tirne[ . . . ] a hundred times faster than we

are, if it gets through a minute while we get through a

second, the impression it creates [must] of course be

only[..,]one-hundredth of what it[ ...] make[sJ if it [is] not

travelling in tirne" ( 36-37 ) . The time-machine reduces

history itself to a state of synchronistic disappearance (as

if to suggest that, because kinesic realism relies upon

periodic lapses of attention at a constant speed of

movement, the world of existence arises only from our own

persistence of vision).

The time-machine almost resembles a

film-machine, insofar as both kinds of device can depict

plural instants of motion within a single picture of events.

Marinetti recognizes that the dromomania of such

cinematic machinery can provide Futurism with "a prodigious

sense of simultaneity and omnipresence" (1991:138).


thus becomes the most poetically privileged genre of speed.

Like Balla and carrà, whose Futurist paintings almost

resemble the chronophotogrsphy of Jules-Marey, Marinetti

attempts to transform a diachronic sequence into a

synchronic continuum, breaking the filmic syntax of a

series, in order to perform the linguistic equivalent of a

jump-cut or a stop-trick (as if la velocitk itself can

dematerialize the diarnetry of reality, producing the ef fect

of the svzsaia, the plus-sign and the minus-sign blurring

together in the gyroscopic revolution of its physick-stick):

this is hou we decompose and recomPose the universe

accordina to our marvellous whims ( 142). 13

Marinetti suggests that to be fast results in the

"intuitive synthesis" of rectilinear forms (the prognosis of

straight lines), whereas to be slow results in the "rational

analysis" of curvilinear forms (the nostalgia of undulant

lines) (1991:103). Blind to the fractals of tomorrow,

Marinetti aligns the futurity of velocity with a royal genre

of mathesis:

he does not see that, while the extremes of

velocitk may permit the future to outrace the past, such

speed always risks the accident of a clinameq, in which a

forward vector swerves into a backward vortex ( particularly

when we consider that, for quantum physics, even maximized


speeds promise to diverge into an involuted theory).

If one

travels very fast (but not above the l i m i t of light), one

travels into the future, but if one travels even faster

( bevond the l i m i t of light ) , one travels into t he past.

Jarry argues that such time-travel occurs only within

the surreality of the as if:

"the Machine can reach the

real Past only after having passed through the Future" since

"it must go through a point symmetrical to our Present, a

dead center between future and past, and which can be

designated precisely as the Imabinar~ Present" (1965:121).

The Machine has two pasts, not only the one preceding its

invention, but also the one preceding its operation--which

is to say, "the past created by the Machine when it returns

to our Present and which is in effect the reversibility of

the Future" ( 121 ) . The "Futurismtf of such 'pataphysics

operates paradoxically in the tense of the post modo, the

Futurist-moving forward, forgetting the past, only by moving

backward, revisiting the past, as if "[dluration is the

tranformation of a succession into a reversion" (121).

Baudrillard suggests that, " [wlhen light is captured

and swallowed by its own source, there is then a brutal


involution of time into the event itselfff (1990:17). Such a

singularity constitutes a "[clatastrophe in the literal


the[ ...] curve that has its origin and end coincide

in one[...], yielding to an event without precedent and

without consequences--[a] pure event," one whose reality

disappears through a simulacre1 precession (1990:17).

'Pataphysics suggests that " [slpeed itself is doubtless only


throughout and beyond al1 technology, the temptation

for things and people to go faster than their cause, to

thereby catch up to their beginning and annul it" (162).

Futurism is thus the effect of a paradoxical temporality, in

which Marinetti reverses his relation to Jarry so that

'pataphysics might originate in the future, not in the past.

The Chimeric Science of the Future

Futurism almost begins to propose for poetry the same


kind of molecular revolution that Deleuze and Guattari later

propose for science. Marinetti imagines a machinic paralogy

that examines the unique specificity of matter and the

absurd singularity of its events without resorting to

anthropic prejudice:

"[ble careful not to force human

feelings ont0 matter" ; instead, "divine its dif ferent

governing impulses, its forces of compression, dilation,

cohesion, and disaggregation, its crowds of massed molecules

and whirling electrons"; after all, ltwe are not interested


in offering dramas of humsnized matter" (1991: 95) .l'


such a dehumanized sensibility, the cyborganism of

'pataphysics must play itself out both peneticallv and

genericallv so that any hybrid of the anthropic and the

machinic parallels the hybrid of the poetic and the noetic.

Marinetti argues that "a strip of steel interests us

for itself; that is, the[. ..]nonhuman alliance of its

molecules or its electrons" (1991:95), and thus, "[tlo the

conception of the imperishablel ...], we oppose, in art, that

of[ ...] the perishable, the transitory" (75) since "matter

has an admirable continuity of impulse toward[...]greater

movement, a greater subdivision of itself" ( 5). I5


subscribes to an atomist dynamic of becoming, in which the

machine does not represent the universe as a mechanismic

assembly-line of causes and effects (each event, a reprise

in the plan of its engineer); instead, such a machine

represents the universe as a cyborganismic fracture-plane of

forces and energy (each event, a surprise to the bias of its


The universe is simply a celibste creation for

finding out what happens next:

it is a surprise-machine.

Marinetti hopes to evoke a molecular revolution that

might take the 'pataphysical epistemology of Jarry by

surprise, augmenting its declensions of exception through

the machinic paralogy of shock, noise, and speed.


resorts to 'pataphysics in order to revise 'pataphysics,

doing so in order to imagine the as if of s future in which

poetry can instigate a science, whose "lyric equations"

(1991:lll) might in turn explain poetry itself. The Italian

Futurists are among the first to posit such a grammatical

algebra, just as the French Oulipians later posit their own

procedural calculus, but whereas the Italian 'pataphysicians

do so by referring to the hardware of a technological form

(ie. the play of concrete machines), the French

'pataphysicians do so by referring to the software of a

numerological form (ie. the play of abstract machines).

Futurism ultimately postulates an applied science of

poetic theories, in which poetry itself is an accidental

instrument for a scientific experiment.


observes that, in ef fect, Futurism dreams of "a future

era[ ...] where scientific laboratories are run by astrologers

and chiromantists" (143)--'pataphysical sophisters that

parody metaphysical physicists.

Graal-Arelsky observes in

turn that, for Futurism, "[slcience turns out to be

relative, like everything else" since "[tlhe world which

rules in our intellect is not real, but imaginary" (Ill),

emerging, in effect, from our own 'pataphysical


perspect ivism.

Such an avant-garde pseudo-SC ience reveal s

that the Future is nothing more than a poetic notion that

provides an absurd domain for the epistemic fantasies of


the as if of its own science-fiction.

Notes to Chapter 3

l~etamatics built by Tinguely do not embody the

disciplinary model of Henry Ford (in which a machine merely

enacts an efficient, predictable series of command), but the

undisciplinary model of Rube Goldberg ( in which a machine

enacts an inefficient, unpredictable chance for freedom).

Metamatics simply dramatize a principle of uncertainty, as

if to demonstrate that (despite Newton and Laplace) the

universe itself does not run as a clockwork mechanism, but

perhaps resembles a mechanized assemblage of mismatched

components, in which gears slip and fuses blow, etc.

'~uturism recognises that the machine appears as

a 'pataphysical technology wherever monomachy intersects

with dramaturgy in a theatre of warfare--not

only in the

arena of siegecraft (e.g. the deadfall, the pittrap), but

also in the arena of stagecraft (e.g. the guywire, the

trapdoor). For Futurism, the accident constitutes the deus

ex machine of either a surprise attack (in warfare) or a

suprise ending (in theatre)--a blitzkrie~ of form, in which

the invention of the military engineer merges with the

deception of the lighting engineer.

3~uturism suggests that a weapon simply embodies


yet another genre of expression:

be it a missile or a

missive, there is always a weapon wherever a utensil is set

free. Atomic weapons, after all, have slmost become the

acme of aesthetic achievement because, like fine art

(slushfunded by the government and stockpiled in

warehouses), such works function as the absolute excess of a

technical sublime, which, if ever allowed to be deployed as

intended, can only result in the kind of dernolition that art

itself has demanded at the extreme of its social revolt.

'~eleuze writes that, "for both Jarry and

Heidegger, Being shows itself in technology by the very fact

that it withdraws from it:

"what defines the loss of Being

is rather the forgetting of forgetting, the withdrawal of

withdrawal" but "this can on19 be comprehended ['lpataphysically[

...,] not metaphysically," and "[tlhis is why Ubu

invents ['Ipataphysics at the same tirne as he promotes

planetary technology" since "it is the culmination of

metaphysics in technology that makes possible the overcoming

of metaphysics, that is, ['Ipataphysics" (1997:93).

allard rd dissects these iron collisions of

automobiles with the cool precision of a scientist,

depicting the accident as a kind of crashtest for a

pornofilm (in the vein of Cronenberg)--an event in which the

obscenitg of a message coincides with the obscenity of its

transit. Like an automobile, literature exerts its beauty

only when its speed risks the threat of a crash--the

transitive verging into the intransitive so that, as Virilio

might observe, th9 armoured chauffeur mistakes the ability

to travel freely for the ability to attack freely (1986:27).

hrry writes: "Pilate gave the send-off. Jesus

got away to a good start[....] [A]ccording, to the excellent

sports commentator St. Matthew, it was customary to

flagellate the sprinters at the start the way a coachman

whips his horses[.. ..] Jesus[...]had a flat right away"

(1965:122). Ballard, likewise, writes: "Oswald was the

starter. From his window above the track he opened the race

by firing the starting gun.

It is believed that the first

shot was- not properly heard by al1 the drivers[ , . . . ] .

Kennedy got off to a bad start" (1990:108).

'~arinetti imagines that the poetry of Futurisrn


can create a schizo cyborg:

a "multiplied man who mixes

himself with iron" (1991:75). Harraway observes that, while

such a cyborg has heretofore dramatized a royal science of

interdiction (in which the subject becomes an instrument),

the cyborg can nevertheless dramatize a nomad science of

contradiction (in which the subject becomes an experiment)

(181): the former science making humanity subordinate to a

rational machine; the latter science making humanity

inordinate to an irrational machine.

'~eleuze and Guattari argue that " [ t ] he celibate

machine first al1 reveals the existence of a much older

paranoiac machine, with its tortures, its[ ...] shadows"

(1983:18); however, such a mechanism does not manage the

judgemental being of a retributive law (be it the Father,

God, or Oedipus); instead, the mechanism mismanages the

fundamental becoming of a distributive art, freeing the

manufacturing of the drives from any desire for a despot of

desire, because (as Deleuze observes) "[tjhe unconscious is

an orphan, an atheist and a bachelor" (Carrouges 1975:19).


9~yotard suggeste that such machines valorize the

incommensurabilities of the paralogical and the paradoxical,

neither cancelling nor surpassing the synthesis of the


"[tlhere is the adversary of Bachelor

machination, conviction, another word for the concubinage of

dissimilarst' ( 1990: 49). Bachelor machines dramatize the

sszsgia of the this and the not-this, continually inverting

a dyadic hierarchy, while momentarily subverting its mutual

exclusion, al1 the while resisting a totalizing commitment

to the metaphysics of the Aufhebung.

''~audrillard argues that , for the postmodern

condition of 'pataphysics, these three domains of thought

al1 intersect in the concept of the parasite, the virus,

whose protean rupture has now subsumed the form of al1

potential accidents, be they biologic diseases, mathetic

glitches, or even semiotic heresies (1993b:69),


enough, such a viral trope hss in turn become parasitic

itself, insofar as the concept has proliferated throughout

every system so successfully that its ambiguity now acts as

a kind noisiness that interferes with its own reference.


'l~uturism suggeats that just as Marconi might use

the radio to set words free from the limits of the voice in

both space and time so also does Marinetti use the

"freespeech' of parole in libertk to speed up his words to

the speed of the radio, doing so through the commutative

force of performative speech:

for example, the typography

of a text must imitate in print the content of its semantics

through s formal prosopopoeia, just as the sonography of a

text must imitate in sound the content of its semantics

through a forma1 onomatopoeia (1991:108-log),

"~achelor machines privilege becoming over being.

Such devices do not

"isorrhesis" of the

movement, either by

embody what Serres might cal1 the

stator, an engine that cancels its own

diminishing its energy or by strivin~

toward its most optimal psradigm (the reprise of an old

motion); instead, such devices embody what Serres might cal1

the "homeorrhesis" of the motor, an engine that expands its

own movement, either by replenishing its energy or by

striving-towerd its most liminal paralogy (the surprise of a

new motion) (1975:72).

13~hershenevich observes that , " [ i ] n a long chain

of images, where one is linked to the other like clockwork

gears, there is only one criterion for success:


expressiveness, based on exceptional novelty" because, "[als

soon as an image gets old, trite, it [starts] slipping like

an old gear, irnpairing the work of the clockwork mechanism"

(151). When Marinetti daims that "every noun is a[ ...] belt

set in motion by the vert (1991:107), he implies that

writing coincides with a filmic device, whose program

exposes language for the artificial cognition that it is.

''~aulson observes that " [ t lhe parallel equations

of Boltzmann and Shannon" analyze such atomic states of

uncertainty in terms of negentropic probability (56).

Nomadic science reveals that a thermionic flow of heat and a

cybernetic flow of data can be explained by the same

formula. For Boltzmann: S = -k E pi log p i.

For Shannon:

H = -k B pi logZ pi.

For the 'pataphysician, the parallelism

between these two equations might imply that the laws of the

physical-universe correlate the dissipativeness of a system

with the informativeness of a system.


157'inguely suggests that the operator of every

bachelor machine must ultimately corne to understand the

'pataphysics of such metamorphic machination, embracing the

rhesis of a nomad genre rather than the stasis of a royal

genre: "Conceptions are fixations. If we stand still, we

block our own path, and we are confronted with our own

controversies. Let us contradict ourselves because we

change. Let us be good and evil, true and false, beautiful

and loathesome. We are al1 of these anyway. Let us admit

it by accepting movement." (Hulten 67)


French Oulipianism:

A 'Pataphssics of Mathetic Exception

"That which certain writers have introduced

with talent (even with genius) in their


(Oulipo) intends to do

systematically and scientifically, if need be

through recourse to machines that process

information." (Oulipo 1986:27)

"[Djays are spooky[ ...] now that my

dissertation is insane." (RACTER [36])

Machinic Mathesis

French Oulipians present the second case for the

surrationalism of the 'pataphysical, revising the structure

of exception in order to oppose the irrationalism of the

French Surrealists. Members of Oulipo (l'ouvroir de


littgrature potentielle) respond to the avant-garde pseudo-

science of Jarry by inflecting the mathetic intensities of

numerological forms, arguing that exception results from the

constraint of programs.

Like Futurism, Oulipo regards

literature as a cyborganic phenornenon that results f rom

deliberate collisions betneen tropaic devices:

the machinic

paralogy of accidents.

For the Oulipisns, writing is

automatic, insofar as it results not from an aleatory

impulse ( as in Surrealism) , but from a mandatory purpose ( as

in Mannerism):

writing is itself a machine to be studied

methodically and guided systematically, as if by a science.

Inspired by Jarry, Oulipo has revised the structure of

exception by using a 'pataphysical epistemology to study the

s~z~nia between the anomalos of "constraint" and the

clinamen of "potential."

Working under the auspices of a

speculative institution (le collkae de 'pataphysique),

members of Oulipo (who include, among others, such literati

as Queneau, Lionnais, Calvino, and Perec) study three unique

species of exceptional eventuality:

the a~oria of order

emerging out of chaos, the chiasm existing between order and

chaos, and the swerve of chaos breaking away from order.

Such 'pataphysics attempts to reconcile the dichotomy that

metaphysics must establish between the mathema of a nomic,

predetermined law (the fata of the as is) and the poiesis of

a ludic, indeterminate art (the alea of the as if).

Oulipo resorts to 'pataphysics in order to suggest that

even a machinic calculus has the potential to generate the

novelty of anomaly.

Just as science might propose rigorous

systems for producing innovative knowledge, so also might

poetry propose rigorous systems for producing innovative


Like the Futurists, who explore the

molecularity of a machinic language, so also do the

Oulipians resort to a lingual atomism in order to imagine

their own anagrammatic radicalities.

Such an axiomatic

condition provides the basis for a 'pataphysical

mathematics, whose ludic rules oppose the royal science of

structural linguistics.

Such a nomad science suggests that

the mathesis of anagrams can subtend a cybernetic literature

of the future (the potential of which has already been

portended by such novelties as hypertexts and videogames).

Oulipo explores the epistemology of such potentialitv,

replacing the metaphysics of thetical cases with the

'pataphysics of hypothetical cases--the als ob, the "as if,"

of what might have been.

Like Futurism, Oulipo sees its

work in ternis of an, as yet, unrealized reality that exists

paradoxically before its time and ahead of its time, taking

place in the tense of the post modo.

Such an avant-garde

pseudo-science endesvours to create potential problems in

the present so that writers in the future might provide an

imaginary solution.

Such a discipline functions within a

ludic genre of speculative experiments:

"1s there any other

canonical way of viewing the future (whether one calls

oneself serious in the[. ..] ('Ipataphysical sense of the

word), than as a bouquet of Imaginary Solutions--that is, of

potentialities" (Oulipo 1986:50).

The Collene of 'Pataphvsics

Oulipo represents an auxiliary outgrowth of the College

of Vataphysics--an absurd school, founded in 1948 in order

to preserve the memory of Jarry by publishing Cahiers and

Dossiers about his avant-garde pseudo-science.


of the projectors from Lagsdo (as in the work of Swift) or

even the professors from Erewhon (as in the work of Butler),

members indulge in a cabalistic spectacle of academic

parodies, constructing a complicated, but meaningless,

bureaucracy of regents and satraps, who lampoon the

institutional arbitrariness of scholastic categories,

imitating what Swift calls the "universal artist," the kind

of person who might breed sheep without wool so as to

advance "speculative learning" (147). As Taylor remsrks:

"the College of 'Pataphysics promotes 'Pata~husics in this

world and in al1 others" (Taylor 151).

The College of 'Pataphysics strives to substantiate the

imaginary philosophy that Butler in turn only hypothesizes

for his own College of Unreason-a

philosophy that he calls

hs~othetics (the nowhere science of Erewhon).

Such a

Philoso~hie des Als Ob imagines a set of impossible

exigencies, each of which requires the sophistry of s

possible solution:

"[to] require the youths to give

intelligent answers to the questions that arise therefrom,

is reckoned the fittest conceivable way of preparing them

for the actual conduct of their affairs" (185-186). To

teach only the reality of the as is without thougbt for the

as if is to invite the myopia of a fixed logic:

after all,

an extreme science always risks the peril of its own folly.

No errors are so egregious that reason cannot find a wiley

means to defend, at al1 cost, their impugned prestige,

The College of 'Pataphysics subscribes implicitly to

such an Erewhonian hypothesis:

the idea that, if unreason

cannot exist without its opposite, then surely an increase

in the former must result in an increase in the latter

(hence, the need to advocate what is specious in order to

expedite what is rational) (187). The "double currency" of

such a surrational perspective sustains a deconstructive

undecidability between syllogisrn and sophistry (insofar as

logic is- used to prove that logic itself cannot be used to

prove): "[tlhe Professors of Unreason deny that they

undervalue reason:

none can be more convinced than they

are, that if the double currency cannot be rigorously

deduced[ ...], the double currency [must) cease forthwith"

(108).' The meta of physics must be invalid if it cannot

eveal to itself the pata of its own madness.

The College of 'Pataphysics offers no degree for such a

lesson, but simply grants pupils the permission to indulge

in the kind of epistemological experimentation seen, for

example, in the abstract workshop of Oulipo (where sober

whimsy reconciles work and play in order to reassert the

rigorous pleasure of cerebral exercise).

For Queneau, such

disciplined daydreaming requires a radical SC ience of

wilfull naPvet&:

"Cw3e forge ahead without undue

refinement" since "[wle try to prove motion by walking"

(1986a:51). Such a nomadic science privileges the

amateurism of tinkering engineers, who proceed by trial and

error, case by case, following a course of action rather

than directing a course of action:

not refinement, but


Such rigorous activity is simpl y a diversion

that follows a clinamen in the traject of thought.

The Bureau of Surrealism

The College of Pataphysics has in turn inspired a

conceptual laboratory that does not simply repeat the

ironies of either Lagsdo or Erewhon; instead, the

surrationalism of l'ouvroir de littkrature ~otentielle

serves to oppose the irrationalism of Je bureau de


rgcherches surr&alistes.

While Artaud might argue that such

a Bureau must reinterpret inspiration, according to "an

order that is impossible to elucidate by the methods of

ordinary reason" (1976:105), the project of such a Bureau

does, nevertheless, differ from the project of Oulipo.

While Artaud insists that Surrealism must follow no formula

(106), Lionnais insists that Oulipianism must sample every


"the goal of ~otential literature is to furnish

future writers with new techniques which can dismiss

inspiration from their affectivits" (Lescure 1986:38).

While the Bureau provides a facility where the public

might record its dreams (for the sake of a future study),

Oulipo provides a workshop where a quorum might invent new

charts (for the sake of a future dream).

Just as Futurism

swerves away from the influence of Symbolism, so also does

Oulipianism swerve away from the influence of Surrealiçm-

even though al1 four aesthetics oppose the metaphysics of

reason itself.

Both t he Surrealists and the Oulipianists

may subscribe to a belief in the automatism of writing;

however, the Oulipianists reject the belief that freedom is

born from the haphazard rejection of a structured

constraint, arguing that the surreal concept of blind chance

mistakenly buttresses the idea that radical thought can be

based upon systernatic ignorance.

For Oulipo, no rule can be

undermined by pretending that the rule does not exist.

Oulipo agrees with the surreal premise thst concepts of

the true can no longer provide a standard for the paradigm

of the real; however, Oulipo argues that to prove this point

by completely abandoning a rational axiology is to commit a

surreal mistake.

Roubaud suggests that, to avoid this

error, Oulipo proposes to envision a kind of "mathematical

surrealism" ( 80), in which mathema coincides perfectly with

poiesis (insofar as both domains refer to the surrealist

virtuality of an as if--the Traumwelt of our own suspended


Even a calculus textbook can speculate about a

set of alternate realities, each with its own rational

modality (be it a hyperbolic space or a transfinite curve).

For Oulipo, the speculative recreations of such mathematics

are no less surreal than the radical poetics of a

bureaucratized oneirocriticism.

Oulipo interprets such revisions of exception as a form

of paradoxical temporality that, like Futurism, reverses

causality through a simulacral precession,


becomes an act of "plagiarism by anticipation" (1986:31), in

which, by some swerve, a past style merely replicates what a

future style has already originated. What Lionnais calls

anoulipism (the analysis of a past constraint) may inspire


what Lionnais calls synthouli~ism (the synthesis of a future

potentia1)--but this subsequent potential in turn revises

its precedent constraint through a kind of 'pataphysical


Such s reversa1 is not surreal in its

nostalgia so much as oneiric in its prognosis.

As Lionnais

suggests, " [ilt is possible to compose texts that

have[. ..]surrealist[... Jqualities without having qualities

of potential" (Lescure 1986 : 38 ) .

Mathematics and 'Patsphysics

Inspired by the College of 'Pataphysics, Oulipo

attempts to propose a 'pataphysical counterpoint to the

rational axiology of mathematics.

Some members of the

College, such as Queneau and Arnaud (who are also members of

Oulipo) have traced the spirals of their own cognitive

gidouille, deriving the reductio ad absurdum of an

impossible hypothesis:

just as Queneau studies the

aerodynamics of equations (1952b:21), so also does Arnaud

explain the mathematics of umbrellas (1955:48).

What the

College has studied on behalf of the clinamen has in turn

influenced the studies of Oulipo itself (psrticularly the

literary research of its mathematical professionals:

Lionnais, Roubaud, Braffort, et al.--al1 of whom pursue

research inspired less by the rectilinear Cornpars of Euclid

and more by the curvilinear Dispars of Riemann).

Oulipo merely follows, then extends, the clinamen,

already present in the numerical sophistry of Jarry, who

attributes the origin of science to an ancient geometry, the

"['IPataphysics of Sophrotatos" (1965:251), from which a

Pythagorean philosopher might derive the formula for the

ssz~gia: ( . When Faustroll uses such a formula in

order to calculate that God is equal to the tangent between

nihility and infinity (1965:256), Jarry parodies the

metaphysical scholasticism of Pascal by suggesting that

belief in the coherence of such logic is no less absurd than

belief in the existence of a deity.

Such a weird proof only

provides an allegory for the argument that, when deified,

science itself coincides with such a chiasm between nihility

and infinity: ie.

the limit of error in science--its

measurement of uncertainty ( + 1--remains incalculable.

Oulipo also follows, then extends, the clinamen,

already present in the numerical sophistry of Marinetti, who

attributes the future of science to an updated calculus, in

which "1 t Jhe mathematical signs + - x serve to achieve

marvelous syntheses" ( 9 9 : l l .

When Marinetti imagines a

poetry of lyrical numbers, he argues that, "[w] ith the

mathematical -, the doubting suspension suddenly spreads

itself over the entirc agglomeration of words-in-freedom,"

thereby eliminating any question which localizes its doubt

upon only one point of awareness (110); instead, every

potentiality is considered in its simultaneity, be it plus

or minus ( 2 ).'

Such equations suggest that, "by

(addressing themselves phonically and optically to the

numerical sensibility)" (110), 'pataphysicians might reveal

the potential for a chiasm between mathema and poiesis.

Roubaud argues that, for Oulipo, to compose poetry is

to undertake a mathetic analysis of language itself (both

algebraically and topologically ) : " [w] riting

under[. ..]constraint is[ ...] equivalent [to] the drafting of

a mathematical text, which may be formalized according to

the axiomatic method" (89). Like Buchanan, who proposes

treating metaphor mathematically end mathesis metaphorically

(13) in order to explore their reciprocal influences,

Oulipo endeavours to demonstrate that, only through the

hybridity of such ' pataphysical dilettantism,' can science

ever hope to produce the novelty of anomaly.

Just as

advances in the nomic tradition of mathema depend upon a

ludic sedition against the numerary, so also do advances in

the nomic tradition of poiesis depend upon a ludic sedition

against the literary. 5

Queneau, for example, wilfully misreads the Euclidean

exercises of Hilbert (who speculates that geometric terms


may be nothing more than cognates for grammatic terms:


every atomic point is a morpheme; every linear curve is a

phraseme; and every planar field is an ideomeme) (1995:4).

Queneau substitutes these speculative, grammatic terms for

their respective, geometric terms so that the standardized

definition of a line (as an infinite sequence of points)

becomes a bastardized definition of a sentence:


sentence contains an infinity of wordst1--only some are

perceived; the rest are imaginary (13). Such an

intertextual substitution of poiesis for mathema in effect

produces an aphorism about the potentialities of

intertextuality itself--the ides that "CbJetween two words

of a sentence there exists an infinity of other words" (13).

Queneau dramatizes such 'pataphysical potentiality by

demonstrating his own "parallel postulate," in which the

poiesis of any genre might be transposed into the mathema of

some axiom.

Every conic curve provides a metaphor for the

clinamen of a given trope:

the elliptical function of

abbreviation, the paraboloid function of disquisition, and

the hvperbolic function of exaggeration (15).

Like an

equation, each of the axiomatic sentences is itself a

constraint for a set of variables (be they geometric or


grammatic). The permuting of these variables generates a

formulation, whose Gbdelian reasoning imposes a constraint

upon the potentials of constraint itself: ie. "Jalxiorns are

not governed by axiomsl' (7). The rule 1s that, for every

rule whose structure is reflexive (including this rule), the

swerve of an exception must intervene.

The Exception of Constraint

Oulipo derives its own exceptional formalities f rom the

mathema of "combinatorics"--a discipline that studies what

Berge calls configurations: "[a] configuration arises every

time objects are distributed according to[ ...] constraints"


(1 ). Such a science pertains to the optimization of

arrangements within determined parameters. What applies,

for example, to the nomic study of numerals in matrices also

applies to the ludic study of acrostics and rnagic-squares,

crosswordç and j igsaw-puzzles . 7

The f ixed canon of literary

research has often ignored the nomadic anomaly of such

combinatorics on the assumption that to subscribe to

constraint is to indulge in a frivolous aesthetic even

though the formality of such constraint (as seen, for

example, in the lipogram, the rhopalic, etc.) can afford the

study of poetics with the rigor of a science.

Perec cornplains that "formal mannerismd ...] are

relegated to the registers of asylums" wherein

" [c]onstraints are treated[ . . . ]as aberrations" ( 1986: 981,

even though the values of such a radical poetics depend not

upon the significance of its themes, but upon the

extravagance of its schema.

Like Futurism, which re jects

passgism, Oulipo argues that a poetry of the future must

absorb, not avoid, what is paradoxical and paralogical in

the science of the present, since to reject the sedition of

the new is simply to adopt the tradition of the old,

maintaining unconscious constraints without an appraisal of

constraint itself.

The distinction between poiesis and

mathema is a constraint that has outlived its potential, and

thus the 'pataphysician must disrupt this constraint by

adopting, as a new constraint, mathema itself. 8

~énabou suggests that to appeal to an aesthetics of

constraint is to reveal the hidden agenda, the secret power,

in the pragmatics cf al1 constraint:

"to the extent that

constraint goes beyond rules which seem natural only to

those people who have barely questioned language, it forces

the system out of its routine functioning, thereby

compelling it to reveal its hidden resources" (41). As

Queneau suggests:

"inspiration which consists in blind

obedience to every impulse is in reality a sort of slavery"

ecause "the pet who writes that which cornes into his

head[. ..lis the slave of otber rules of which he is

ignorant" (~dnabou 1986:41). To explore the rule is to be

emancipated from it by becoming the master of its ~otential

for surprise, whereas to ignore the rule is to be imprisoned

in it by becoming the slave to the reprise of its intention.

Roubaud argues that, to realize the potentiality of

such a radical poetics, "a constraint [is] envisaged only on

the condition that this text contain al1 the possibilities

of the constraint" (95)--which is to say that the constraint

must evoke the entire domain of its own as if:

not an

exemplary sin~ularitv to be repeated, but an imaginary

multiparity to be explored.

Such a literary manifold does

not produce a variation upon its own significant themes so

much as produce an extravagant scheme of variation. What is

potential generates a new process rather than an old


The exception to a rule implies, not a freedom

from, but the outcome of, such a constraint.

The exception

explicates the rule, testing its limits, defying its fields,

forsaking the nomic work of one paradigm for the ludic risk

of another paralogy.

Roubaud argues that the potential of such a constraint

can avoid the imperialism of its own repetition if the

constraint is proposed, but produces only one textual


"there even exists a tendency, which might be

qualifieci as ultra, for which evers text deduced from a

constraint must be classed in the 'applied' domain, the only

admissible text, for the Oulipiani ...] being the text that

formulates the constraint and, in sa doing, exhausts it"

(91). While the constraints of Oulipo can tend toward

multiple examples only by ceasing to perform the intentions

of Oulipo, such a constraint upon constraint omits the

necessity for deduction in the method itself.

Even though a

constraint must provide only a virtual theorem about a

hypothetic textuality, such a theorem must "prove" itself

through at least one imagined solution.

Roubaud argues that, in effect, "a text written

according to a constraint must speak of this constraint"

(Oulipo 1986:12), if only because this constraint upon

constraint dramatizes the reflexive tautology of mathema

itself (hence, a writer like Perec might compose a lipogram

that refers to itself as a lipoaram, repressing the letter E

while mentioning the absent E: "1 [would] start giving my

plotting a symbolic turn, so that[ . . . ] it would point up,

without blatantly divulging, that Law that was its

inspiration, that Law from which it would draw[ ...] a rich,

fruitful narration") (1994:282).

Such a strict, but absurd,


law about law nevetheless dramatizes a perverse allegory

about 'pataphysics itself (as if to suggest that reality is

merely a system of arbitrsry constrsint, whose rules have

created a science that can in turn discuss such rules).

Constraint provides an allegory for the phenomenal

recurrence of a numerical structure so that, like Fibonacci

sequences (which subtend the naturd anatomy of nautili and

flowers), such acts of poietic mathema evoke 'pataphysical

speculations about the ludic basis of reality itself

(implying that physics is merely the poetic effect of a vast

game that reality must play--a game in which the rules

themselves are at stake). As Roubaud argues, "something

'additional to' their production intervenes, different from

the secrets of their enumeration:

the search for a new

multiplicity of limits (or of non-limits[ ...]), each the

founder of a remarkabler. ..]proposition, a number no longer

golden, but made of some other precious element, [the] 'rare

earth' of esthetics" (96)--the ironic verity of beauty.

The Exce~tion of Potential

Greimas quotes de Tracy in order to argue that no

narrative game lacks imperative rules : "JO lne should beware

of believinn lthatl the inventive mind operates accordina to

chance" (48). Oulipo agrees with Greimas, insofar as it

refuses to equate chance with a freedom from some dictum.

Bens, however, wonders in what way "one [can] reconcile such

rigor with the[. ..lthe incertitude[ ...] that [must]

necessarily accompany potentiality" (70), and he suggests

that Oulipo does so by evoking the sszyaia as a trope for

the ambivalent relativity between the alea and the fata.

Oulipo explores the poetic impact of any aleatoric form that

arises from an axiomatic rule (for example, the random

series of digits in the number n or the random series of

primes in the set 1--arbitrary sequences that reveal a

cornplicity between complexity and simplicity).

Queneau cites such mathetic examples of chance in order

to swerve away from his Surrealist compatriots (who reject

him for his belief that chance does not necessarily

synchronize with extreme freedom); instead, chance arises,

not from the absence of a conscious rule, but from the

presence of an ineffable rule (Bénabou 1986:41). While the

Surrealists must insist that the anagrammatic coincidences

of automatic scription do exemplify the random excess of

irrational liberation, Baudrillard has gone so far as to

aver that this kind of excess is not so arbitrary as it is

mandatory: it is a necessity exceeding the rule which joins

the signifier and the signified (a rule which is


itself supremely arbitrary) (1990:151). What is surreal

about a rule is not its disappearance, but its reflex-

iveness: its ability to recognize itself as an exception.

Baudrillard suggests that, for science, there exist two

hypotheses about chance itself: the first, metaphysical

(suggesting that al1 things are disconnected and divergent,

and only by chance do they meet each other); the second,

'pataphysical (suggesting that al1 things are connected and

convergent, and only by chance do they miss each other)

( 199Oa: 145 ) . While quantum physics has qualif ied the

implicit error within deterministic causality, substituting

alea for fata, such a science has nevertheless disclosed an

even more implicit order behind indeterminate causality--a

synchronistic order that is coincidental and conspiratory:

"[clhance[ ...] correspond[s] not to a temporary incapacity of

science to explain everything[ ...] but to the passing from a

state of causal determination to another order, radically

different, also of non-chance" ( 145). 9

Baudrillard suggests that, for science, "[clhance

itself is a special effect; it assumes in imagination the

perfection of the accident" (1990a:149)--the kind of

accident that characterizes the fatal order of al1 poiesiç

(particulary in the case of Oulipo): "[w]riting[...,]

[wlhether poetry or theory, [is] nothing but the projection


of an arbitrary code[...](an

invention of the rules of a

game) where things corne to be taken in their fatal

development" (154). The game presents an arbitrary ensemble

of constraints, of necessities, whose outcome remains


The science of ' pataphysics suggests that the

real is a ludic event, whose mandatory fate results from an

aleatoric rule that produces, not a reprise of its code so

much as a surprise from its code. The alea is the a~oria of

the fats, revealing the paradox of a so-called random order.

Oulipo suggests that the potentials of constraint

coincide with the poiesis of a ludic state, whose mathema

constitutes a playful way to study al1 that is playful

(doing so in a manner different from the kind of statistical

rationalisrn, which codifies play according to a forma1

matrix of minimax options and zerosum tactics).


observes that, although whst is ludic does not regard the

rule of its contraints as a mandatory universal, what is

ludic does nevertheless assume that the as if of such

constraints can free us from the necessities of the as is:

"by choosin~ the rule one is delivered from the lawu--from

its metaphysical prerequisite:

ie, belief in the verity of

its spstem (1990b:133) .'O

The truth of the iudic abides by

no belief; instead, such truth is entertained as one of many


hypothetical alternatives:

it is merely a "p~tentiality.'~

Oulipo proposes the as if of such a constraint in order

to swerve away from it through the potential of a mandatory


Perec explains that, "when a system of

constraints is established, there must also be anticonstraint

within it" (Hotte 1986276). Life itself must

include cases of "falsity" and "absence" in the structure of

its mode d'emploi, either altering or deleting an event so

that there rernains at least one anomalous component to the

puzzle (1987:497).

For Perec, a constraint must

systematically evoke its own disintegration in a manner that

calls to mind the paradox of the Persian flaw (insofar as it

perfects what it disrupts): "[tlhe system of constraints

[...]must not be rigid, there must be some play in it, it

must, as they Say, 'creak' a bit; it must not be completely

coherent; there must be a clinamen" (Motte 1986: 276). 11

Oulipo suggests that the potential of such a clinamen

evokes a- 'pataphysical multiplicity.

Bens, for exemple,

observes that, " [s] ince reality never reveals more than a

part of its totality, it thereby justifies a thousand

interpretations, significations[...],

al1 equally probable"

(72). Just as Bens rnight argue that "potentialitv, more

than a technique of composition, is a certain way of

conceiving the literary" (72), so also does Lescure argue

that "every literary text is literary because of an

indefinite quantity of potential meanings" (37). What is

potentialits for the French Oulipians is thus tantamount to

literariness for the Russian Formalists, insofar as both

concepts theorize the poiesis of novelty in terms of an

if, in which to be literary is to pose imaginary solutions

to problematic formalities.

The Anagram of 'Pataphvsics

Oulipo regards poeisis as a form of ars combinatoria,

in which the alphabet provides a fixed array of Lucretian

particles in a state of disciplined permutation.


remarks that, since al1 the different modes of mathema

(addition, division, etc.) can be applied to al1 the

different strata of poiesis (morpheme, phraseme, etc.), a

text is just a set of atomistic variables that evolve within

a set of axiomatic constants (44-45).

~gnabou repeats the

premise of Hjelmslev, who argues that, if language is merely

a forrnulaic way of selecting terms and arranging them in a

forrnulaic wsy, then "an exhaustive calculus of the possible

combinations" can be "described by means of a limited number

of premisses" (9). This mathetic analysis of language

presumes that language has a machinic function:

that it is

one of many cellular automata.

Greimas, moreover, goes further thsn anyone in

describing such a poietic mathema since his own genre of

Structuralism invokes the abstract mode1 of symbolic logic

in order to derive the formula for literature itself.

Narrative structure can be reduced to an imperial calculus,

in which the given units are arranged within magical

squares, according to a forma1 ensemble of boolean axioms:

conjunction, disjunction, non-conjunction, non-disjunction.

Meaning arises from "the interaction of semiotic

constraints" (48) within a grammar of reciprocal relativity.

Poetic genres simply diagram the transition of "actants"

from position to position in this set of quadratic

relations. Like the Oulipianists, the Structuralists argue

that poetic genius can be explained according to a rule.

Mathews hss even written texts by multiplying two

matrices of lexical elements in order to produce

algebraically a third rnatrix of phrasa1 elements (126).

Such a mathetic analysis of grammar suggests that even

aesthetic constraints might themselves be arkanged within a

matrix of genres so that just as Mendelejeff can propose a

periodic table of chernical elements, so also can Queneau

propose a periodic table of poetical elements, both indices

acting as atomic diagrams by which to classify the results

of poetic prograns (~énabou 1986 : 46 ) . Just as Hendele jef f


reveals the relative positions for possible elements (as yet

unfound), so also does Queneau reveal the relative positions

for potential poetries (as yet untried).

Such analysis

offers a topography of virtuality, revealing domains of

anomely for futuristic innovation.

Oulipo may appear to repeat the kind of theories that

typify Structuralism, but (as Roubaud observes),

"[s]tructure, in its[ ...] Oulipian sense, has only a minimal

relation to 'Structuralism"'

(93). Oulipo in fact draws a

subtle, but urgent, distinction between the Structura of

Greimas and the Structure of Queneau: the former

iescribing a static diagram for the general case of a text;

the latter inscribing a rhetic program for the special case

of a text.

Structura corresponds to the predictable reprise

of the Compars, providing an hermeneutic formula for

extracting constants from variables:

it is a mode1 product

to be emulated--whereas Structure corresponds to the

unpredictable surprise of the Dispars, providing an

heuristic formula for injecting variants into variables:

it is a modal Process to be explored. 12

Baudrillard observes that, in the case of Structura,


"[tlhis is what linguistics does:

it forces language into

an autonomous sphere in its own image, and Eeigns to have

found it there 'objectively,' when from start to finish, it

[has] inventedt ...] it" (1993a:203)--mistaking accidents for

destinies when given an event of anagrammatic significance.

Baudrillard sees that, for the Structura of Saussure, the

poiesis of the anagram threatens to undermine the very

mathema of the science that must use language itself to

study such language (hence, Saussure resists the radical

outcome that his own studies of the anagram nevertheless

enforce) (1993a:SlZ). Whereas the metaphysical atomism of

Structura reduces words to absolute units that SUPPO~~

signification, the 'pataphysical atomism of Structure

reduces words to dissolute units that subvert signification.

Baudrillard writes that "[al11 these formulas converge

on the idea of a 'Brownian' stage of language, an emulsional

stage of the signifier, homologous to the molecular stage of

physical- matter, that liberates 'harmonies' of meaning just

as fission or fusion liberates new molecular affinities"

(1993a:218). When Perec, for exemple, writes a heterogram,

in which each line of grid contains a different sequence of

the ten most common letters (AEILNORSTU) plus one other, he

does not simply encipher messages within a tabula that makes


sense when read left to right, line by line; instead, he

explores the combinatorics of an unanticipated configuration

(1985:[7]). Just as the as if of a mathematic concept often

coincides uncannily with the as is of its phenomenal

reality, so also does the anagram contrive a possible

(rather than encipher a previous) meaning.

Perec can thus transform a sequence such as ACEILNORSTU

into a "factory of exchange" (l'usine d troc) which turns

howls (us& cri tonal) into tools (outils B soc), according

to a closed system--a container of undecennary orderliness:

"you have the casket:

here, nude, art dares it" (tu as

l'&crin: ci, nu, art l'ose) (1985:[28]). Rather than

encode a cryptic keyword (whose repeated presence rnight

dramatize the "ulcerations" of such a formidable

constraint), these anagrams disperse the atomistic particles

of such a keyword through a kind of literal seepage (the

"ulcerations" evoking a rule for the sake of erasing its

pain). The anagram does not recycle so much as atomize its

meaning,. dissecting it, dispersing it, until the keyword

vanishes (just as every meaningful phenornenon vanishes

through the permuted excesses of its own atomic events).

The Proaram of 'Pataphvsics

Oulipo derives its inspiration for this kind of

anagrammatic 'pataphysics from the work of Swift, who

conceives "a project for improving speculative knowledge

by[ ...) mechanical operations" (148). What Swift describes

with humour in a spirit of moral seriousness, Oulipo

practices with humour in a spirit of sober whimsy.


Swift satirizes, Oulipo plagiarizes.

Like the projectors at

the Grand Academy of Lagado, the professors at l'ouvroir de

littgrature potentielle recombine the disiecta eembra of a

textual history in order to invent an absurd device that can

eliminate the necessitg for inspiration:

"[elvery one knows

how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and

sciences; whereas by[ ...] contrivance the most ignorant

person[ ...] may write books[...jwithout the least assistance

from genius or study" (148).

Swift imagines a screen across which the spectacle of

the alea-and the fata can appear and disappear through the

automation of an ars combinatoria.

The Grand Academg of

Lagado creates a framework of wood cubes, that suive1 on

wire axles, their numerous facets covered by square pieces

of paper with al1 the words of the language engraven upon

them in al1 their moods and cases, but without any order, so

that anyone turning the handles on the edge of the frame

might alter the old sequence of recorded thinking and thus

evoke a new sentence ." What Swift berates metaphysically

as a reckless device, Oulipo equates 'pataphysically with a

bachelor engine: the as if of a literary computer. Like

the Futurists, the Oulipians, equate poiesis itself with a

machinic paralogy (whose potential involves an intended


the swerve of anagrammatic coincidences).

Oulipo imagines that such a computer can express the

potential of a constraint too laborious to be otherwise

fulfilled (since machines can easily perform the exhaustive

task of both selecting words and combining them--in a way

that has since corne to define the mesostics of Cage or the

aleatories of Mac Low); however, such acts of prosthetic

automation do not simply assist in the process of writing so

much as replace the concept of writing itself. Thomas

observes that the Prefaces to poerns by Oulipo do not serve

as authorial statements about semantic intention; instead,

they comprise a mode d'emploi, not unlike a READMLDOC that

precedes a computer program (18). A text is no longer

simply a message produced by, and for, a person, so much as

it is a proaram produced by, and for, a device--an algorithm

designed to make its reader become a writer.

Oulipo imagines that such a cybernetic literature of

anagrammatic permutations might realize the dresm of Borges


and create a garden of forking paths-an


experience of rhizomatic potentials, in whicb the machine

expects the reader to behsve like a writer who must deflect

the course of the narrative through an ensemble of crucial

options: the as if of multiple if thens.

What Queneau

calls a "tree literature" (1986b:156) and what Fournel calls

a "theater tree" (1986:159) have corne to represent some of

the first texts to discuss the potential for interactive

innovations (particularly hypertexts and videogames). Such

cases of cybernetic literature begin to dramatize a

philosophy of 'pataphysical perspectivism, insofar as they

attempt to imagine a multitude of divergent realities

created simultaneously from the same text.

Queneau in Cent Mille Milliards de poèmes perhaps

offers the first such case-study in his attempt to produce a

book that is not so much a volume for storing poetry as a

machine for creating poetry:

ten sonnets are written on ten

pages with cut lines so that a line from any sonnet can be

supplanted by its cognate from any of the other sonnets

(while still preserving all their rules of rhythm and

syntax). Since the Cartesian product of ten sonnets with

fourteen lines (10'" permit trillions of different cases, a

single reader, reading one a second, must survive for more


than a thousand millenia in order to read every poem.


a book remains inscrutable, not because of its illegibility,

but because of its potentiality.

Such a book is

'pataphysical, insofar as it deals with the as if of what is

possible in virtuality, but impossible in actuality.

Oulipo suggests, moreover, that even though such poetry

reveals interpretation to be inexhaustible, 'pataphysics

does not believe in the motto, ars lon~a vita brevis;

instead, 'pataphysics implies that "[alrt is not long enough

even in the shortest of livestf (Oulipo 1986:48).

What takes

forever to do in actuality takes no time at al1 to do in


"The Cent Mille Milliards de pokmes [has]

rendered this clear to ['Jpataphysicians" (48).


onerous, if not sublime, burden of al1 the unexplored

potentials must always outweigh the durability of any one

text since no poem can endure long enough to resist al1 of

the new poems that it in turn evokes. It too is merely an

intimation of a future text that is likewise unreadable in

its absolute entirets because it too is no more than a

virtual machine for creating the possible.

Oulipo regards such a poem as a kind of literary

cornputer, whose power resides in its ability ta graph a "map

of[ ...] virtualities" (1986:50)--a map that alludes to the

increasing role of industrial machines in al1 aspects of


poiesis: "[tlhis exploration[ ...) only begins to suggest the

vastness[. .. Jexplorable when[ ...] thsnks to cornputers we can

finally[ ...] begin to reveal the constants of a writer in al1

sorts of areas" (49-50).

Such a poem produces an


of mystification" (501, defamiliarizing the

romantic mystique of irrationalism by providing a

parenthetical example in the present for a hypothetical

machine of the future--a machine able to peruse the poetry

of humans even as it writes poetry of its own:

"being, like

Swift, skeptical prophets, we entertain these prospects

[ ' ]pataphysicallytt ( 50 ) .

Mathetic Machines

Calvino argues that "the aid of a computer, far from

replacin~ the creative act of the artist, permits the latter

rather to liberate himself from the slavery of s combinatory

search, allowing him also the best chance of concentrating

on this 'clinamen' which, alone, can make of the text a true

work of art" (1986a:152).

Computerized experiments with

poetry so far resemble Surrealism because they mimic

aleatory impulses (chance forais, random styles, broken

logic); however, the creativity of machinery might be better


served by the mannerism of its forma1 rigour:

"[tlhe true

literature machine Lis] one that itself feels the need to

produce disorder, as a resction against its preceding

production of order:

a machine that [can] produce avant-

garde work to free its circuits when they are choked by too

long a production of classicism" (13).

Calvino suggests in effect that, because cybernetics

has begun to develop machines capable of autodidactics and

autopoietics, "nothing prevents us from f oreseeing a

literature machine that at a certain point feels unsatisfied

with its own traditionalism and starts to propose new ways

of writing, turning its own codes completely upside down"

(l986b: 13).

Such a machine might analyze the material

relations between poetics and history by correlating its own

stylistic variation to the stock index:

"[tjhat indeed will

be the literature that corresponds perfectly to a

theoretical hypothesis:

it will, at last, be the

literature" (13).14 While the Surrealists argue that,

because -inspiration is instinctive, it is inexplicable, the

Oulipianists argue that what is most automatistic in the

instinct of writing must also be most pronrammable.

Oulipo suggests that "[tlhe Word is[...]

ontogenetically [']pataphysicalU (1986:48), insofar as


language does not depict the world of the as is so much as

create the world of the as if: "[tlhe time of created

creationsl . . . ] should cede to the era of creating crestions"

(48)--not artifacts, but catalysts: not objets d'art, but

modes d'emploi.

Poetry is no longer the effect of

inspiration so much as it is the cause for inspiration:

"[tlhe whole world of literature ought to become the object

of numerousl . . . ] prostheses" ( 31 )--be they linguistic or

cybernetic. l5

For Oulipo, inspiration is ultimately not

irrational so much as it is surrational.

Its creativity

results from the fata of a simple law that applies itself to

itself in order to form the alea of a complex art.


swerve of a clinamen arises from the rigor of its influence.

Oulipo implies that each text ought to become no more

than a tool to be deployed upon itself by yet another text

in order to produce "a Topology of Commonplaces, in which

one[ ...]succeed[s] in abstracting cornmonplaces from the

structures of commonplaces--and then a 'squared' topology of

these places, and so forth until one attains, in a rigorous

analysis of this regressus itself, the absolute" (Oulipo

1986:50). Oulipo, however, introduces a clinarnen into this

metaphysics of such an absolute. The repetition of a past

constraint (the re~ressus) swerves into the intimation of a

future potential (the digressus). The machinic accident of

such a swerve threatens the existential originality of

creat ivity by reminding the poet about the potential

iterability of creativity itself--which is to Say that even

'pataphysics must evoke its own 'pataphysical retroversion.

Notes to Cha~ter 4

'Oulipo privileges ouvroir over oeuvre.


than refer to itself as une sgm'minaire de littgrature

expbrimentale, Oulipo refers to itself as a un ouvroir de

littgrature potentielle, doing so for two reasons:


the word séminaire connotes the individual experience of

masculized eugenics, whereas the word ouvroir connotes the

collective experience of a femininized industry; second, the

word expkrimentale suggests the outcome of a practice in the

present, whereas the word potentielle emphasizes the promise

of an outcome for the future.

2~utler vrites thst Ünreason[ ...] is the

complement of reason, without whose existence reason itself

were non-existent," and for such an Erewhonian 'pataphysics,

irrationalism is the hyperbolic, not the antonymic, extreme

of rationalism itself:

"[e]xtremes are alone logical, but

they are always absurd" (187). Reason is an extreme species

of reciprocal opposition, whose logic is potentially more

threatening than the average s~z~nia and its conflation of


"the mean is illogical, but an illogical mean

is better than the sheer absurdity of an extreme" (187).

'~arinetti writes: "[m]y love of precision[ . . . ]


has naturally given me a taste for numbers, which live and

breathe on the paper like living beings in our new numerical

sensibilitv" (1991:llO).

Algebra provides a mode1 for

grammatical innovations--for example, "it would have needed

at least an entire page of description to render this vast

and complex battle horizon had 1 not found this[ ...] lyric


'horizon = sharp bore of the sun +5 triangular

shadows (1 kilometer wide) +3 lozenges of rosy light +5

fragments of hills +30 columns of smoke +23 flames'" (110).

'~athemat icians have f requently recognized that

wherever mathema must explicate its own axiomatic paradoxes,

it must abandon itself 'pataphysically to the imaginary

solutions of its own antonym--poiesis:

consider, for

example, the paradoxes of Aristotle (as seen in the stories

by Carroll about Wonderland), the paradoxes of Lobachevsky

(as seen in the stories by Abbott about Flatland) , the

paradoxes of G6del (as seen in the stories by Hofstadter

about Escherland), and the paradoxes of Mandelbrot (as seen

in the stories by Pickover about Lat&&carfia).

'~heories about numbers have often sprung from

mathetic recreations, particularly the stochastics of dicegambling

(as is the case for Pascal1 just as theories about

letters have of ten sprung f rom poietic recreations,

particularly the linguistics of word-jumbling (as is the

case for Saussure 1.

Not only do both types of royal science

resort to the ars ludens of a nomad science in order to

innovate their paradigms; both types of science resort to

the abductive reasoning of statistics in order to esplain

the atomistic quali ties that def ine their object of study.

'combinatorics can be used to perforrn algebraic

operations upon two or more matrices, mapping concrete

elements from one set ont0 the abstract structure of another

set, manipulating their elements in order to produce one of

three kinds of Cartesian product:

surjective (at least one

element for each position); in.iective (at most one element

for each position); or bijective (only two elements for each


Both linguistics and cybernetics deploy this

science in order to calculate combinatory statist ics for

phonernic frequencies or even entropic redundancies.

kuler, for example, proposes a feious problen of



given two sets, each with ten different

elements, distribute al1 of them into a 10 x 10 grid such

thet each ce11 contains only two elements, one from each

set, while no rank or file contains more than one element

from either set. Perec uses this configuration for the

structure of his mode d'emploi, in which ten characters and

ten scenarios are permuted throughout a 10 x 10 grid for a

housing cornplex:

a knight's grandtour around the story's

chessboard determines the sequence of narration (1987:501).

'~athema and poiesis intersect in the domain of

metaphor, the figure of a figure, be it a number or a

letter, both of which can render an account.

Nowhere is

this relation more explicit than in the structure of the

analogy, an economy between two metaphors, the relation of

their relations.

Both mathema and poiesis involve the use

of a ratio, a method of reason (so to speak), that measures

the relation between two measures (in this case the

metaphorical relationship between mathema and poiesis


ie. the svzvgia between opposite paradigms).


'~audrillard suggests that the dif ference between

the alea and the fata is subject to the reversion of the

s~zvgia. For Baudrillard, science always expects order to

arise out of chaos in order to resist chaos in what amounts

to a desperate battle, a sisyphean effort, waged against an

eternal entropy:

"Chance tires God" ( 1990: 147 . The

science of 'pataphysics, however, implies that, because

chance is what makes tolerable the brutality of fatality,

chance is tiresorne not because God must always prevent it,

but because God must always produce it.

ldOulipo suggests that mathesis is as ludic as

poiesis, insofar as such a system of constraint can create a

virtual reality of arbitrated rules to relativize the actual

reality of motivated rules. Constraint relies upon the

rhetorical strategies of metalepsis, exchanging signs about

the exchanging of signs, in order to state reflexively that

'this is play. ' Such play coincides with the as if of

suspended disbelief:

ie, the perspectivism of the

'pataphysician, who no longer distinguishes between the

unreality of the semic and the actuality of the ontic.

%lotte argues that, when applied to the anagran,

the potentials of such a clinamen reify the very constraint


that they evade:

"one can trace the path of the clinamen

through the text, line by line, and its consequences are


the language of the new f orm, when compared

to the old, describes a radical swerve toward the normative"

(Motte 1986:275).

The dysfunction of the system is itself

systematized as a function of the system so that that what

is paralogical in one science becomes paradigrnatic in


such is the clinamen of the clinamen.

12Within mathematics, we might contrast the royal

Structura of Hilbert with the nomad Structure of Mandelbrot:

the former, seeking to portray quanta1 dimensions as the

predicate norm for plane geometry; the latter, seeking to

portray fractal dimensions as an alternate case to plane


We might also contrast the royal Structura of

Russell with the nomad Structure of G8del:

the former,

seeking t o portray categorical paradox as aberrant to set

theory; the latter, seeking to elaborate categorical paradox

as inherent to set theory.

%ift writes: "The professor then desired me to


observe, for he was going to set his engine at work.


pupils at his command took each of them hold of an iron

handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of

the frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole

disposition of the words was entirely changed, He then

comrnanded[...]the lads to read the several lines softly as

they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or

four words together that might make part of a sentence, they

dictated to the[ ...] scribes[....]" (148-150).

140ulipo imagines a future potential that RACTER,

a computer program, has almost fulfilled (insofer as such a

progrsm composes grammatically correct, but semantically

surreal, poetry without human input: "[wlhen my electrons

and neutrons war, that is my thinking" ([IIO]).

Such a

program reveals the ability of language to make sense to any

reader despite being used formulaically in any manner--or as

the computer daims, "a leotard, a commissioner, a single

hoard, al1 are understandable in their own fashion," and

"[iln that concept lies the appalling truth" ([Il83 ). 15

15~ueneau has even cited Turing in order to state

that only a machine can appreciate a sonnet written by

another machine (1961:[111). Turing argues that, for a

machine to think, it must behave only as if it thinks (53),


portraying its own mathema as a function of poiesis (through

a game of dialogic mimickry).

The dialogue between the

machinic and the anthropic may not be about a dialogue

between an original and its imitator so much as a

dialectical interaction between the two aspects of a divided

subject--a self that is reading itself as a text.


Canadian "Pata~hvsics: A 'Pataphssics of Mnemonic Exception

"Palaeontology reigns, it would seem over a

kind of criminal unconscious of the species ,

since this race for fossils, this forced

exploration bears a strange resemblance to

the exploring of the fossils of the


Each has about it the same

ressentiment as to our origins."

(Baudrillard 1994a:72)

"In the world of 'Pataphysics, Canada is

Nowhere. " ( Wershler-Henry 1994: 6 6)

The Nowhere Science

Canadian "Pataphysicians present the third case for the

surrationalism of the 'pataphysical, revising the structure

of exception in order to oppose the irrationalism of

Canadian-Nationalists. The Canadian "Pataphysicians respond

to the avant-garde pseudo-science of Jarry by inflecting the

mnemonic intensities of palaeological forme, arguing that

exception results from the corruption of memories. The

Canadian tlPataphys ic ians have incl uded such poets as

McCaffery, Nichol, and Dewdney, al1 of whom have parodied

the environmental mythopoiesis of such critics as Frye,

Atwood, and Kroetsch (for whom literature is merely the

side-effect of a geography--the surreal terrain of a

collective unconscious).

Like Futurism and Oulipism,

"Pataphysics opposes such mysticism, treating literature,

not as a mythopoeic, but as a cyborganic, phenornenon.

Canadian "Pataphysics reveals that any attempt by

Canada to define a coherent identity for its own state in

response to the dominant identity of another state (be it

European or Arnerican) simply reifies the metaphysics of the

state itself (its nationalism, its imperialism).


"Pataphysics resorts to Jarry in order to parody the

metaphysics of both Canadian autonomy and European hegemony

--but by doing so, such "Pataphysics ironically reifies the

European hegemony of 'pataphysics itself.


observes that, for the cartography of 'pataphysics, "Canada

is Empty" (66), sous rature, since the map for the College

of 'Pataphysics does not include such a country in its

sphere of influence--even though the map appears, ironically

enough, in an issue of the Dossiers that discusses the vers

'pataphysics of the arctic (Fassio 30-31).

Wershler-Henry suggests that, despite the intent of

Jarry to address the paralogy of al1 such eccentrism, the


legacy of Jarry may have served only to install the ubiquity

of his own centrality.

Wersbler-Henry suggests that,

despite the paradox of this oversight, Canadian

"Pataphysicians have done little to unveil their obscured

presence so that, for Canada, "[t]he "~ataphysical field

remains perpetually open, [a] 'smooth space' that baffles

State attempts at philosophical containment" (67). Canadian

"Pataphysics marks its difference from its imperial cousin

(*pataphysics) through a swerve (clinamen)" (67), resorting

to European 'pataphysics in order to parody European

'pata~hysics, granting Canada its own autonomy from the

question of autonomy itself by portraying these paradoxical

endeavours as an imagined solution to mnemonic problems.

Canadian "Pataphysicians make a spectacle of thematic

banality by presenting their own brand of archaeological

misinformation, reducing such a mnemonic paradigm to a set

of 'pataphysical expenditures.

Rather than indulge in

mythomania, "pataphysicians resort to the tropes of the

anomalos, the s~zsnia, and the clinamen, in order to create

their own forrns of satirical criticism (be it the probable

systems of Nichol, the perseus proiects of McCaffery, or the

natural histories of Dewdney). This kind of nomadic science

does not attempt to portray the essence of its own culture;

instead, such criticism strives to present the play of

wonder over wisdom, evoking what Dewdney might cal1 "a

universe where whet we consider uncanny[ ...] occurs almost

ten times as frequently" (1982:30)--a universe that in the

end turns out to be none other than our own.

Quotidian Quotation

McCaffery and Nichol write that "Canadian "Pataphysics

quite clearly is a literature that, as yet, has no archive,"

and "[ijts absence of inscription superbly parallels its

absence of thought" (TRG 1992:303).

Wershler-Henry observes

that Canadian "Pataphysics eludes definition, because "many

Canadian "Pataphysicists share the affinity of the European

and American colleagues for dissimulation" (68), with

individuals coexisting under various pseudonyms amid various

collectives, be they actual or unreal:

the Toronto Research

Group, the Institute of Linguistic Onto-Genetics, et al.

Canadian "Pataphysics does indeed mimick the 'pataphysics of

such European institutes as le colibne de '~ata~hasique or

l'ouvrai-r de littgrature potentielle; however, such a

science marks i ts dif f erence f rom European ' pataphysics

through s change in diacritical orthography.

Canadian "Pataphysics adds another vestigial apostrophe

to its name in order to mark not only the excess silence

im~osed upon Canadians by a European avant-garde, but also

the ironic speech proposeci bg Canadians against a European



McCaf fery and Nichol suggest that Canadian

"Pataphysics moves from elision (') to quotation (") through

a superinducement on elision--"the doubling of the elide, a

doubled inversion and inverted doubling" (TRG 1992:301). A

parody of parody itself, such 'pataphysics performs a

clinamen upon its own history, simulating it (through

quotation) while disrupting it (through deviation). The

unknown origins of 'pataphysics are explained by the unknown

science of 'pataphysics:

"the quotation[ ...] of the given

that we do not understand but with emendations that serve to

constitute our explanation" (301-302).

Canadian "Pataphysics suggests that its dual, but open,

quote signifies a "portmanteau confluence" (TRG 1992:301) of

the meta (beyond) and the para (beside), situating itself

within a place, both external and supernal

--a place that, like Canada, is defined paradoxically by its

placelessness: the interzone of ethernity. The open quote

for such a science marks the openness of a site that muat

cite its own openness.'

Its space does not tell the vhole

truth because it never has the lest word.

To quote truth in

such a space is to engage in an endless process of eruptive

aperture, "the [ s ]cience of the never-ending ,


never-commencing discourse" (302)--a science without a fixed

ground for generalization, only a fluid field for

specialization: "Our whole can only be our part. This is

the stated openness of our quotation." (303).

Canadian "Pataphysics quotes European 'Pataphysics in

order to parody the mythic desire in Canada for an

autonomous, if not indigenous, archetype of mnemonic

identity, be it the theme of pastoralism, as in the case of

Frye (1971:241) or the theme of survivalism, as in the case

of Atwood (1972:32).

Such criticism seeks to establish a

mnemonic paradigm of originality through an act that

Kroetsch might cal1 "archaeology" (1989:2)--a term allegedly

borrowed from Foucault, but misunderstood by Kroetsch, who

attributes to it a hermeneutic connotation that Foucault is

careful to avoid. As Davey suggests, this kind of mnemonic

thematism is a reductive endeavour, often characterized by

simplistic misprision (1983:3). At best, such criticism is

nothing more than a poor case of unconscious 'pat~physics,

largely unaware of its own philosophic absurdities.

Irrational Thinktanks

Canadian "Pataphysicians parody the acedemic banality

of such critics by proposing a philosophic alternative to be


studied by irrational thinktanks:

the Toronto Research

Group, the Institute for Linguistic Ontogenetics, the

"Pataphysical Hardware Company, et al.--virtual cartels that

act as marginal cognates for the academies of Laputa or


.' Like le coll&ne de '~ataphusiaue or 1 ' ouvroir de

littthture potentielle, such phantasmatic institutions

comprise a Canadian set of 'pataphysical laboratories, al1

of which explore the poetics of anomaly, on the assumption

that literary research must be more experimental than

instrumental : "al1 research is symbiotic & cannot exist

separate from writing," and "where action eliminates the

need for writing[,] research can function to discover new

uses for potentially outdated forms" (TRG 1992:23).

Imaginary academies, such as these, al1 imply that the

mythic desire for cultural essences can only reinforce the

metaphysical theorization of an imperial paradigm.


research, theories do not necessarily involve an ad hoc

exploration of writing during the process of writing, but

involve a de facto exploitation of writing after the process

of writing.

Al1 theories face their object with autocratic

stances and imperative tactics.

Al1 theories in effect

subordinate thought to the nomic instrumentalism of a royal

science, whereas research coordinates thought through the

ludic experimentalism of a nomad science.

For the research

of such imaginary acsdemies, language itself represents a

cyborganic phenornenon, in which every text becomes a poetic

device, a novel brand of "book-machine," whose virologic

mechanism uses us more than we use it. 3

The Toronto Research Group, for example, rejects

univocal theories in favour of dialogic research, replacing

the scientific individual with the collective endeavour of

"a synthetic subject (based on a We-full, not an I-less

paradigm)" (TRG 1992:lO-11).

Rather than embrace the royal

imperialism of an objective science, such a thinktank

studies the nomad radicalism of a sophistic science, arguing

thst, because "al1 theory is transient & after the fact of

writing" (23) , the poetic research of s "pataphysician

differs from the noetic theories of a metaphysician:


reports make no pretence to a professorial legitimation"

(12); instead, they risk the propriety of reasoning itself

through the theoretical eclecticism of "synthetic proposals"

(10-11). Such research provides a ludic alibi for the

mnemonic- paralogy of a radical science.

The Institute for Linguistic Ontogenetics, likewise,

rejects a royal paradigm in favour of a nomad paralogy,

replacing the theories of structural linguistics with the

research of linauistic ontogenetics, "a tool for prying


mankind from[ ...] set mental attitudes towards language--set

attitudes which, for the most part, are based upon

linguistic superstition" (Writers 1985: 44). Rather than

reprise a fixed array of semic forms, such a thinktank

invents its own mathetic axiology, one that defines language

in terms, not of an objective structure, but of a

"projective wordstruct," whose forms do not depict, so much

as create, reality through a kind of quantum physics, or

lingual atomism, which Truhlar describes as "chronospatiodynamic"

(1980:lOZ). Such research also provides a ludic

alibi for the mnemonic paralogy of a radical science.

The "Pataphysical Hardware Company, moreover, imagines

an applied science that might utilize such surrational

innovations in order to produce an array of marketable

commodities--"[e]verything for your imaginary needs" (Nichol

1993:115): not blank paper, but "Genuine Brand Blank

Verse"; not plaster dust, but "Jarry Brand Plaster de

Paris"; not rose seeds, but "Grow Your Own Stein Poem," etc.

Such a project does not celebrate a functional technology so

much as satirize the linguistic dysfunction of the object

itself, its potential to be deployed in any way imaginable,

despite the standard function for which it has been normally


Such objects parody the fetishes of a capital

economy, whose phvnance encourages conspicuous consumption

(among other imaginary solutions) in order to fulfill a

panoply of desires that do not exist.

Irrational thinktanks such as these are as ephemeral as

a toy balloon with the word "thought" written upon it (so

that the owner of such "Pataphysical Hardware might

drarnatize the act of "pataphysics itself by inserting the

inflated balloon into a headband, literally producing a

comic-strip thought-bubble thst is in turn destroyed through

the use of an accompanying "thought suppressant"--a pin).

Such an allegorical destruction of reason characterizes the

whimsy of what McCaffery might cal1 a "'pataphysicalized

(f)unctionW (1980:12)--an exercise in "FUTILITY, which,

expressed as F t UTILITY becomes that[...]which

is ONE

LETTER BEYOND UTILITY" (12). The letter "Fu symbolizes the

excess of anomalous exception--"the play of FREEDOM[ ...]

WITHIN FUNCTION" (12): ie. what supplements the "unction"

of an otherwise reassuring, but inhibiting, purpose.

Rational - Geomancu

Canadian "Pataphysics suggests that the mythomania of

thematic thinkers is a kind of unconscious 'pataphysics that

takes place in what Wurstwagen calls "the oscillating noplace

of speculative geology" (1980:150). Wershler-Henry


observes that such paleology represents a "lexical chain

that runs through the strata of Csnadian "Pataphysics like a

vein of precious metal, linking disparate elements in

intriguing ways" (68). "Pataphysics swerves away from the

royal science of geology toward the nomad science of


a rational geomancy that can oppose a

national geography: "[w]e mean by Rational Geomancy the

acceptance of a multiplicity of means[ ...] to reorganize

those energy patterns we perceive in literature," and "[bly

eneras pattern we mean that configuration of discharges[ ...]

arising from[ ...] engagement with a text" (TRG 1992:153).

Geomancy norrnally involves an art of divination by

interpreting the signs of the earth, its telluric rhythm

and tectonic stresses. Such a discipline involves a

realignment of topographies. Parts are arranged to produce

ley lines of force; cracks are read as fault lines in a

form. To read is a seismic act that makes a schiz, a shift,

in the relation of these parts to each other, either fusing

them together or rending them apart.

To be a rational

geomancer is to apply this mode1 of reading, not only to the

land (the as is of the ontic), but also to a text (the as if

of the semic):

"the geomantic view of literature sees

interpretation as any system of alignment" (TRG 1992:153).

A rational geomancer uses 'pataphysics to rechart the fault


1 ines that separate reason f rom unreason , realigning the

nationalist cartography of both a terrain and its culture.

Canadian "Pataphysics suggests that rational geomancy

deploys the exception of the clinamen in order to read

a~ainst the arain:

ie. such geomancy involves a radicalized

realignment in the very idea of geomancy itself. Whereas a

thematic pedagogue (such as Atwood or Frye) interprets

sovereign geography as a metaphysical cipher for a mythic

memory (believing such a "myth" to be true), a rational

geomancer interprets memory itself as a 'pataphysical cipher

for an imaginary landscape (believing the "true" to be a


What Truhlar calls "psychopaleontology" refers to

this geomantic principle of memory: "the theory that

societies[ ... ~unconsciously determine[ ...) theirl... 1

biological destinies through the procreative force of their

languages" (1985:[21).

Such a mnemonic paradigm regards

culture as nothing more than a geographic simulacrum.

Wurstwagen, for example, indulges in 'pataphysical

archaeology by misreading a Muskokan watertower as a Yucatan

skytemple, "as if the architecture [has] framed a discourse

in which stone [is] speaking to stone without the clumsy

intermediary of the human mind" (1980:148). Wurstwagen

misreads the evidence of the structure in order to argue

that historians have misread the structure of evidence

itself. Canadian history has occulted its potential for the

occulting of Canadian history.

The very "mytho-

bastardization" (1980:144) that he vilifies in others, he

practices himself--but only to imply that al1 such

standardized knowledge is bastardized knowledge. The

clinamen in the form of his argument parallels the clinamen

in the form of the ziggurat: "a dominant aesthetic[ ...] of

telluric rhyrnel ...] and energic clinamen" (145).

Wurstwagen argues that the absence of writing on this

ancient obelisk stems from a stone taboo, "the strict

injuncture that no man shall write upon the stone-that-is-

already written" ( 1980: 149).

Unlike any other petroglyphic

civilization, this bizarre culture does not write messages

upon the rock, but reads messages into the rock.


archaeologist plots the evolution of an aboriginal

settlement from a reading culture (that is agraphie) to a

writing culture (that is dyslexic). Al1 writing emerges

from this functional illiteracy only as a kind of occluded


"topographie cipher" (153) that acts as a

palirnpsest, mimicking the writing in the granite, while

deviating from the writing in the granite.

Al1 writing

becomes a "vacuscript" (153)--not an absence of writing so

much as a writing of absence.


Canadian "Pataphysicians suggest that such a vacuscript

coincides with 'pataphysics itself, insofar as its imaginary

solutions code their own existence into the form of their

own non-existence.

Such a fantastic portrait of a Meso-

American past in effect provides a satirical allegory for

Anglo-Canadian life--a culture that has also practiced its

own absurd version of the stone taboo:

at first, the

culture only reads other books while its own books go

unwritten; then later, the culture writes its own books

which in turn go unread. The 'petaphysical taboo of this

regional mythology parodies the metaphysical dream of a

national narrative.

The vacuscript may have no readership--

but (as McCaffery suggests), "[wlhen the book is closed, it

becomes the SPECULATIVE TEXT imagined and written outside of

an actual writing" (1980:12).

Canadisn "Pataphysics parodies the exotic status of

Canada--the otherness of what Baudrillard might cal1 the

phantasie of Patagonia:

"[tlhe disappearance of the

Indians ,- your own disappearance, that of al1 culture, al1

landscape, in the bleakness of your mists and ice" (1993b:

149). Baudrillard argues that , for such geographic

dispersion, "[tlhe last word here is that it is better to

put an end to a process of creeping disappearance (ours) by

means of a live sojourn in a visible form of disappearance"

--"[ tlhat is why 'Patagonia' goes so well with

'Pataphysics,' which is the science of imaginary solutions"

(149). Canadian "Pataphysics performs an agonistic

spectacle, responding to the disappearance of Patagonis with

a hyperbole of its own disappearance, as if "laIll

translations into action are imaginary solutions" (149).

Like the Futurists and the Oulipians, the

"Patsphysicians prefer the ludic speculation of the as if to

the nomic articulation of the as is.

They strive to create

what McCaffery might cal1 a "'PATATEXT" (13)--a kind of

vacuscript , whose reading eludes the instrumentalism of an

imperial semantic by putting the notion of play itself into


Such a 'patatextual sensibility characterizes the

nomadic studies of "pataphysicians, who resort to the tropes

of the anomalos, the syzygia, and the clinamen, in order to

create their own forms of satirical criticism (be it the

probable svstems of Nichol, the perseus pro-jects of

McCaffery, or the natural histories of Dewdney).

As Dewdney

might imply, such criticism reveals that "[tlhe poet lis] in

the same vanguard of research as physics, molecular

chemistry, and pure mathematics" (1980b:Zl).

Probable Ssstems

Nichol defies the imperial paradigm of paleology in

order to propose his own 'pataphysical archaeology about the

Canadian f rontier.

Nichol wilfully misreads the mathema

( rather than the poiesis) of historiographie interpretation

in order to extract an improbable secret from a geological


For Nichol, al1 of history becomes an imaginary

solution to the millenary problems of memory, and despite

the ironic title of his "probable systems," such a

pathological hermeneutics results in the most "improbable"

of paradigms--a kind of mathetic ~ematria, its tone both

scientific and cabalistic at the same time.


suggests that what is probable coincides with what is most

provable, and indeed the probable systems are staged as


proofs," but in terms that cal1 to mind, not only an

algebraic syllogism, but also the idea of a "rough draft."

Nichol argues that his probable systems constitute a

set of preliminary experiments for a possible science, whose

nomad research defies the prejudices of royal theories:

" there are those who[ . . . )wish to suppress this line of

research even as there are others who wish to dismiss it

thru ridicule" (1990:28).

Such "rough drafts" are probable

(in a "pataphysical sense) not because they can be proven,

ut because they can be probed. They are "probe-able"

systems. They maintain a formal rigour despite their sober

whimsy, since they all express a hypothetical reason for

their 'pataphysical design. Like nurnber theory, which often

reveals uncanny patterns in mathematical correlations, the

probable systems reveal 'pataphysical coincidences in a

lexical field. Such proof s systematically generate

alternative insights and informative surprises.

Nichol repeats the project of Oulipo, using a mathetic

axiology in order to suggest that a formula can provide a

ternplate for linguistic structures .( Nichol demonstrates,

for example, that each letter can become a variable for the

value of its position in the alphabet, just as each word can

in turn becorne a relation for the sum of these values:

hence, the word "faith" can be expressed as the operation

"6 + 1 t 9 + 20 + 8," whose total value, "44," can be

expressed as the operation "8 + 15 + 16 + S''--the

cipher for

the word "hope" (1985:48). The "pataphysical unlikelihood

that two-words of equal value might also be synonymous

(proving mathematically, for example, that "faith" does

indeed equate with "hope") can only lend credence to our

"faith" that, behind the uncanniness of coincidence, there

probably exists the secret agenda of a forma1 system. 5


Nichol deploys such a "patsphysical cryptography in

order to suggest that just as the numbers 1 to 9 in base 10

can be recombined to express any number beyond the number 9,

so also can the letters A to 2 in "base alphabet" (1990:99)

be recombined to express any letter beyond the letter Z.

Just as the standard number 9 might equal 14 in base 5, so

also might the standard letter 1 equal AD in base E.

Such a

'pataphysical mathematics irnplies that texts do not transmit

messages so much as encode the value for some hypothetical

letter (which is itself some astronornical number) far beyond

the limits of the standard alphabet:

"Remembrances O f

Thinas Fast could be considered the complex expression of a

single letter an unimaginable distance beyond A" (1990:106).

Like a numeral series, every lexical series encodes a

specific position within a continuum of infinite anagrams. 6

Nichol deploys the tactics of such a "pataphysical

mathematics in order to perform his own genre of speculative

archaeology--a weird genre that imagines an historical

conspiracy of mnemonic oddities:

for exemple, Nichol

misreads a roadrnap printed on a courtesy placemat from a

motel in Winnipeg, interpreting the chart as an array of

"alphabetic routings within which messages are contained"

( 1990 : 25 ) .' Nichol d a i m s that the roadinap depicts the

archaeological ruins of alphabetical sites, each of which


provides evidence for the existence of a Manitoba Alphabet

Cult--an ancient culture that has encoded ciphers into the

terrain in order to produce a mnemonic "landuagetf of

'pataphysical portmanteaux (1993:75)--messages to be

interpreted in the future by a society that has learned to

use the avant-garde pseudo-science of rational geomancy. 7

Nichol argues that the place-names along the ley-lines

of highways form homophonie sentences that encrypt multiple


for exarnple, "Erikson rackham onanole wasagaming"

(a sequence of villages) becomes "~ir sticks on a rock hum

an old W as a gaming" (1993:75). Such a "doubling of

messages" (77) (through semantic conflation), with its

"wrinklings of meaning" (83) (through syntactic repetition),

can supposedly preserve the maximum amount of data in the

minimum length of word so that the Manitoba Alphabet

Cult might ensure that at least some of its messages can

survive against the erosion of history:

"it is not chance,

or mere whimsy, that [hasl produced these town names, but a

system of prodded & forced responses undoubtedly much lîke

the systems [that] magicians use to force us to pick the

book [that] they want us to pick" (1993:78).

Nichol writes that, for such a culture, "the alphabet

[has] a visible existence in the world," and "the feu proofs

[that] we see in the present (alphabet-shaped rocks &

plants[. . . ] , etc. ) reference a richer[. . . Ipast" (Writers

34)--a past that provides a mnemonic allegory for the poetic

legacy of Canada itself:

"[tlhere was once a country in

which each new thought was seen as demanding a new sign,

"but "[f Jinally there were so many signs that[ ,] tho one

spent a lifetime one could not learn them all," and "th0

disciples faithfully wrote down new signs as they occurred,

they were no longer sure if they were truly new since al1

[of] that could no longer be known, & even unfamiliar truth

dazzled because it seemed new" (1993:126-127).

For Canada,

genuine novelty is hardly ever appreciated; instead, an old

myth is al1 too often misconstrued as a new idea.

Nichol strives to lampoon this mistake (endemic among

thematic scholars), doing so by arguing, not that the land

determines the text, but that the text is itself a land--a

land, whose interzone is interpreted according to a

preconceived epistemology.

Such an exercise constructs a

false origin, a "realphabett' (1980b:42), whose ironic series

contains a "SECRET NARRATIVE" (43), a mythic cipher: "(A ->

V) = X" (43)--a formula, whose structure suggests that, no

mstter what the order of the alphabet, its forma1 series is

always "equivalent" to some variable of the unknown.


the probable systems probe the domains of this unknown,

suggesting that to expand the field of its veritability is


to expand the field of its possibilities.

The search for an

origin becomes a paranoid activity that ultimstely creates

the memory of its own origin. 7

Perseus Pro-jects

McCaffery also defies the imperial paradigrn of

paleology in order to propose his own 'pataphysical

archaeology about the Canadian f rontier . McCaf fery of fers a

paranoid criticism, extracting a secret history from a known

geology by studying a "TRILOBITE ALPHABET," whose

paleoalvphs require a kind of mnemonic literacy ( 1981 : 4-5 ) :

"[c]onstructed is an analogical framework of great

complexity with a method (the operating 'pataphysics) based

largely upon a posited similaritg in features between

language and geology and intended to function translatively

as a modifying instrument upon the data of experience"

( 1986: 190). History, for McCaf fery, provides an imaginary

solution-to the millenary problems of memory, permitting

the culture of one extinct species to be read back through

the devices of yet another species.

McCaf fery conf ronts the petrifying mythomania of

Canadian scholars by performing a swerve upon their own

thematized investment in the classical tradition of

mythology itself:

"[ilf nothing else the Perseus Project

[opens] the curtains on a new philosophic theatre in which

the Medusa story can be re-staged; where Perseus might

return the same prince as before and stand with face averted

£rom the gorgonU--"[b]ut this time his shining shield

[becomes) the blank pages of a voluminous[ ...] dictionary,

and the image reflected there Lis] his own" (1981:9-10).

The geological misprision of such a myth opens the way for a

'pataphysical hermeneutics that reflects, not upon, but

aaainst, the bestoned image of its own unveiled truth,

treating "

sign in its state of non-signification" (191)--or (as

Dewdney might suggest):

"[meanings] are like the soft parts

of a decaying fish, they rot away and leave only the

skeleton to be preserved as a fossil" (l98Ob:23).

McCaffery suggests that, like a word, such a rock holds

a position within a grid of forms-a

tabula, created by the

horizontal axis of spatial ordering (ie. the line) and the

vertical axis of temporal layering (ie. the page):

"[fjossil relates to stratum as 'parole1 relates to

' langue' , as syntagm to paradigm" ( 1986 : 191 ) . Language is

used to create a metaphor that converts the diachronic mode

of linguistic temporality into, what McCaffery calls, "the

synchronic form of a 'pataphysical structure:

the fossil

epitomizes this transformation" (192). Such a 'pataphysical

paleontology develops a conceit that language is itself a

subgenre of geology:

langue, like the mass of the earth, is

a stratum, a tier in an "articulated surface" ( NS), just as

parole, like a node in the earth, is a plexum, a fold in a

"surfaced articulationtt ( 192 ) .

McCaf fery develops a ' pataphysical metaphor that calls

to mind the paleological imagery of Deleuze and Guattari,

who argue that language involves a process of stratification:

each molecule is sorted into layered forms (a

sediment), and these layered forms are then folded into a


molarity (an aggregate) (1987:40).

The two modes of this

"double articulation" are mutually relative:

"[tlhey not

only Vary from one stratum to another, but intermingle, and

within the same stratum multiply and divide ad infinitum"

(44) When the process of stratifying ninerals becomes

reflexive, it makes a protein; when the process of

stratifying proteins becomes reflexive, 3t rnakes a cellule;

and when the process of stratifying cellules becomes

reflexive, it makes a thought.

No fossil is simply a figure

for a phrase; instead, every fossil can become a phrase.

McCaffery imagines a kind of Darwinian philosophy,

reminiscent of Dawkins, who argues that language is nothing

but an ecology, in which memes, or ideas (such as the idea

of memes), can proliferate in a virological manner (19).

Language is just the latest update of a machine that has

found its own diverse methods to replicate itself (be it

through geoseismic fossilization, biogenetic hybridization,

or semiologic symbolization--three

processes which establish

a kind of conjugal relation, a paleosexualitv, between rock,

life, and word).

Such diverse methods are not mutual


they do not mimick each other so much as mutate

into each other.

As McCaffery remarks, "language [is] a

sexual system entirely alien to the human species, a

paleozoic conspiracy, a saturated networkl ...] that uses man

far more than man uses it" (1981:75). 1 O

McCaffery imagines that, like genetic fossils, which

have evolved through many different phases and many

different strata, language itself resembles a process of

anagrammatic recombination, in which "alphabetic

chromosomes" (1981:8) mate with each other, articulating

themselves within one code, infiltrating themselves into

another code, then sedimenting themselves within a new code:

"[wlhereas fossil production takes place over millions of

years inside the framework of geologic time, fossil re-

production occurs more rapidly within active linguistic

time" (7), becoming a global tactic of replacement that

begins to substitute everything for itself--or as Dewdney

suggests, "[plarticle/ by particle the solid reality that

composed the/ allegorical ground he stood on is replaced by/

fantasies and lies. (fossilization)" (1975~87).


McCaffery implies that fossils eliminate any grounds

for the truth of meaning: "ftlhe fossil 'sentence'[ ...]

answers a non-existent question and hence is by nature

'pataphysical" (1986:199). Whenever "we dig deeper into the

etymological strata for the key term:

fossil from fodere:

to dig as towards the latent truth and/or the latent lie,"


we discover that "[tlhe tone of this mendacity within[ ...]

'pataphysics instigates a confrontation with the linguistic

form that carries it" (1986:199). Such paleology performs

an act of genetic mutation, recombining disparate elements

into anomalous equations:

"[wlith these new awarenesses we

can only enter into a philosophy of the unthinkable, where

meaning is finally detsched from the human mind and where

words no longer mean anything" (1981:9)--instead, they

become a vacuscript of imaginary alphabets.

Natural Histories

538. Dewdney also defies the imperial paradigm of paleology

in order to propose his own 'pataphysical archaeology about

the Cansdian landscape.

Dewdney offers a paransid

criticism, extracting a historic secret from a geologic

syntax, by studying an invisible catalogue, "a heraldry in

creation unseen" (1991:20), "a semiology we can just barely

comprehend" (25)--the "inventory [of] a personal, regional

identity- directly informed by natural history" (43 ) .

History, for Dewdney, is also an imaginary solution to the

millenary problems of memory, parodying two textual

traditions simultaneously, operating not only within, but

also against, these traditions:

first, the romantic

tradition that depicts nature in terms of a sublime

pantheism; second, the scientific tradition that depicts

nature in terms of a mundane positivism. 12

Dewdney understands that natural history has typically

restricted itself to a taxonornic continuum, into which al1

nature may be presumably fitted without distortion. Nature

is read as a hierarchical list of species, a great ladder in

which each rung is separated from its neighbour by only the

smallest possible difference: a segmented continuum. 13

Dewdney itemizes such a "radiant inventory" ( 1988: 11 ) , but

unlike traditional taxonomies, his own blazon of nature is

itemized without apparent categories as though to preserve

the implicit randomness found in nature rather than impose

an explicit lawfulness upon such a nature.

Such a project

simply follows the clinamen in the traject of its own

thinking on the assumption that "[tlhe random is our

existential dilemma to a certain extent, the basis of

everything, the background hum of the real" (1990:85).

Dewdney strives to perform a clinamen upon such an

onornastic endeavour by resorting to the kind of automatic

scription that can supposedly access the racial mernory of

the unconscious:

"the voice of the land and the creatures

themselves, speaking from the inviolate fortress of a

primaeval history" (1983:8). Dewdney resorts to the

'pataphysics of such automatism in order to transforrn the

surrealist psychology of the irrational into the futuristic

technology of the surrational.

Giving themselves up to what

Dewdney calls remote control (1975:92), "pataphysicians

might eventually eliminate the interference of the self in

order to become receptive to the dictation of a machinic


#'[t]he radio telescope becomes a mode1 of the

bi-conscious interface between 'the mind' and signals from

the 'outside' which the poet receives" (1980b:20).

Dewdney goes on to use such "pataphysics to parody the

mythomania of Canadian criticism by arguing that cultural

identity arises 'pataphysically from the mnemonic paradigm

of a geology:

"[als there is/ a water table/ there is also/

a memory table" (1973:[17])--a register punctuated by

"unknowns which, however perfectly dissected, never yield

their identity" ( 165) ).

Such a culture occupies "two

worlds--the one diurnal men know and that other world where

lunar mottled eels stir like dreams in shallow forest water"

(1982: 151 ; moreover, natural history can document the shift

from one world to the other, replacing the ontic with the

semic, through an oneiric process of transmutative


"[alllowing both [of] these mechanisms to

continue operating , we slowly remove and replace theiyr

parts with corresponding and interlocking nothings" (15).


Dewdney suggests that this dreamworld, this Traumwelt,

of automatic scription can be realized through the

hypothetical future of "Manual Precognition" (McFadden 93).

Dewdney mimics the evolution of a genetic message by writing

some ten pages, then erasing a few parts, whereupon he fills

the resultant void with the continuing text so thst the

leading edge of the writing is carried back through what has

already been written:

"[tlhe first sentence carries within

it the blueprint for the whole subsequent work, much as an

embryo contains the code for the adult," but "[ulnlike an

uncovered law[ ...], the progeny of the original sentence can

mutate & return to the site of the inception to alter it"

(1986:73). Such a reflexive teleology provides an allegory

for the recursive evolution, not only of a literary text,

but also of the sentient mind itself.

Dewdney resorts to such a biological figurality in

order to argue that language itself has taken on a vitality

of its own, living in parasitic symbiosis with us, trading

its reproduction for our consciousness: "[llanguage can be

regarded as a psychic parasite which has genetically

earmarked a section of the cortex for its own accommodation"

(1986:59), utilizing humans as neural slaves in its own

sentience, and "[tlhe intact survive1 of this intelligence

is threatened by one thing only, and that is the discovery


and subsequent exploration of its plane of existence by

ourselves, its human host" (1980b:25). This 'pataphysical

hypothesis is complicated by the fact that, just as there is

a parasite in us, there is also a parasite in language,

because language in effect feeds upon itself:

"it is the

mind/ eating itself" (1980a:12).

Dewdney suggests that, like al1 machines, language is

itself cyborganic, its operation regulated by a Governor and

a Parasite.

The Governor is a mechanical device that

remlates a machinic function; the Parasite is a cyborganic

device that sabotages a machinic function. l4

The Governor

and the Parasite are in a sense both parasitic ( insofar as

they disrupt a process), but whereas the Governor directs a

flow toward a homeostatic lirnit (a repetition within

controls), the Parasite directs a flow toward an

homeorrhetic excess (a cornpetition beyond control).


Governor unveils the power of language over us; the Parasite

reveals the power of language in us:

"[tJhe Governor is an

adamant limit beyond which[...]it

is impossible to

conceptualize" (1980b:25), while "[tJhe Parasite allows the

poet to function beyond his own capability" (31).

Dewdney imagines that "pataphysics is itself a

parasitic discourse that might subvert the piety of a


gubernatory metaphysics:

"the notion of a supreme being is

a renouncement of the human miracle" (1987921, and "the

correction for [such] piety is natural history" (1982:lO). 15

The exceptional unlikelihood of life itself already endows

reality with a mystery so wondrous that it requires no

recourse to a domain beyond thought in order to render it

even more wondrous:

"[ulltimately our cosmos functions as

an inhuman, yet intimate, phenomenology to which we impute

deistic attributes because we cannot conceive of anything so

subtle[ ...] operating without consciousness as we know it"

(1991:43). The universe puts itself at the infinite

disposa1 of an insatiable curiosity, in which every irnagined

solution opens up a new set of 'pataphysical speculations.

The Everywhere Science

Canadian "Pataphysics operates upon the assumption that

reality itself comprises a manifold universe of referential

uncertainty, what Dewdney might cal1 a "handfed illusion"

(1980a:68), in which "it [is] completely impossible to

systematically reason if we [have] awakened from our dreams

on a collective or individual basis" (1973:[52]).


"Pataphysics presumes that reality does not exist per se,

but is created by us to be studied by us; hence, such an

avant-garde pseudo-science cannot regard the reality of

Canada itself as anything more than a superstitious

hallucination (despite the best efforts of thematic scholars

to prove otherwise); instead, such an avant-garde pseudoscience

performs a clinamen upon the mythomania of

archetypes in order to show that such tropes only represent

imaginsry solutions to the problem of cultural identity.

Canadian "Pataphysics attempts to perceive the world

only through the ironic window of what Nichol might cal1 a

CRITICAL FRAME OF REFERENCE--a char sheet of acetate that

permits the user to reach "new levels of philosophical and

philological awareness" (1993:123) since the user can simply

place the FRAME (a Fixed Reference and Meaning Explainer)

over an area of text in order to respond to skeptical

inquiries about the context for an academic argument, The

FRAME differs from less expensive models sold by less

reputable stores because the frame lacks "the now obsolete

black border whose funereal aspect properly announces the

intellectual death of its users" (123); instead, the FRAME

has clear edges that become invisible st a distance so that.

in the end, "the whole world fits inside the frame" (lZ3),

the real coinciding with its "pataphysical perspectivism.

Canadian "Pataphysics provides the 1at.est detour in an

historical trajectory that develops the 'pataphysics of


Jarry according to three successive, cyborganic modes:


machinic, the mathetic, and the mnemonic.

Jarry has

inspired a century of experimentations, in which

'pataphysicians attempt to imagine the as if of a nomadic

science, whose sophistries might draw attention to the

poetics of a neglected exception, be it the excess of the

anomalos, the chiasm of the syzsaia, or the swerve of the


"Our hope is a faint one," avers the Toronto

Research Group:

"that others will follow and in following

lead to the collection of the neglected and (who knows, as a

poetic corollary, the neglect of the collected) those whom

we have failed to remember or were forced to ignore, the

already passed and the yet to corne" (TRG 1992:303).

Wershler-Henry observes, moreover, that even this

historical trajectory of exception must itself undergo its

own form of revision, disrupting the normalization of

'pataphysical abnormalities so that "each generation of

"Pataphysicians must anticipate its own irrelevance" (76).

Like metaphysics before i t , ' pataphysics has already begun

to establish a tradition of millenary problems, for which

only a metaleptic discipline (a 'pataphysics about

'pataphysics) might provide the as if of an imaginary

solution. As Jarry observes:

"[wle too shall become

solemn, fat, and Ubu-like and shall publish extremely


classical books," and "another lot of young people will

appear, and consider us completely out of date, and they

will write ballads to express their loathing of us, and that

is just the way things should always bel' (1965:85).

Notes to Chapter 5

l~ronicall~, the openness of the quotation mark

in Canadian "Pataphysics calls to mind the openness of the

ellipsis marks in the last line of Doctor Faustroll:

"Pataphysics is the science. . . . " (Jarry 1965 : 256 ) . The

original sentence in French can be translsted as either a

completed thought or a suspended thought (as if to suggest

that such a science marks the unfulfilled expectation of a

solution, whose completion occurs only in the imaginary):

"the irreverence of the common herdl . . . ] sums up the science

of "Pataphysics in the following phrase: " (TRG 1980: 13 ) .

'~eabershi~ in these imaginary thinktanks is

always virtual:

The Toronto Research Group is comprised of

McCaffery and Nichol; the Institute for Linguistic

Ontogenetics is comprised of Dean, Truhlar, Riddell, et al;

and the "Pataphysical Hardware Company is comprised of

Nichol alone. Other organizations include the Institute for

Creative- Misunderstanding, the Institute for Hmmrian

Studies, and the Institute for Applied Fiction, al1 of which

appear and vanish without warning throughout the recent

legacy of literary research in Canada,


'~he Toronto Research Group studies the anornalaus

potential in the parodic algebra of its own mechanismic

speculation: relationality (in the translating of a text);

sequentiality (in the chronicling of a text); and

theatricality (in the drematizing of a text), etc.

Like the

desiring machines of Deleuze and Guattari, such neglected

subgenres intervene in a flow of data (facilitating it or

debilitating it) in order to reveal that, between writer and

reader, "[tlhere is at al1 points a machine that secretes

and a machine that consumes" (TRG 1992:172).

'~ichol imitates the Jarryesque mathematics of

Queneau in order to parody the science of Greimasian

linguistics. Like an ontogenetic semiotician who uses

"pataphysics to calculate the grammatic densities of

language in order to derive their geometric rnorphology

(oblate spheroid for Italian, prolate spheroid for English,

etc.) (TRG 1980:lll-112), Nicha1 attempts to calculate the

qualities of an uttered thought:

its heaviness (1980a:113);

its quickness (1990: 34) ; the full length of its periphery

(1990:16); and the square root of its rationale (1985:89).

'~ichol even goes so far as to imagine a device


for measuring the signified:

a graduated cylinder, whose

increments are marked off, not with numbers, but with

animals (1985:ISO).

Such a device implies that to impose a

random system upon the real by arbitrarily demarcating

differences between signifier and signified only results in

absurdities no less bizarre than an imagistic form of long

division: for example, a giraffe, a woman, a church, and a

sailboat, when divided by a woman and a sailboat, equals a

cello, a giraffe, and a weathercock, etc. (115).

'~ichol suggests, for example, that the poem

"Translating ~pollinaire" is the 54,786,210,294,570th letter

in such an infinite alphabet (1990:112). To write is to

quote one of the points in this series, and to equate the

set of the alphabet with a set of al1 integers raises

questions about the continuity of such sequences: "the

concept of whole letter is itself an interesting one[ ...]

since if you have H &[...II

what are the fractional letters

in between them & what do they express" (1985:89)

We have

no way of adequately expressing such improbable exigencies.


h h o l provides a "patsphysical explanation of a

weathermap, arguing that such a chart is not a map of a

protean climate, but an act of "alphabet worship," plotting

"the movement of gigantic airborne H's & L's over

continental North ~merica" in "a time when the letter (&

hence the word) f are] present in the world as thing, as

visible fact in the land & air scapes" (Writers 24-25).


alphabet in effect represents the record, not of speech

itself, but of living beings, sublime letters, now extinct,

but nevertheless remembered by a cabal of secret agents.

'~c~af fery argues that " just as fossils verbalize

so words fossilize" (1986:191): both of these "blind forms"

signify an absence (which has in turn corne to signify the

essence of Canada itself: its desertedness). Like fossils,

letters constitute a meteoric detritus, whose sedimentation

can be studied by a nomadic science: "What remains after

erosion is often desert, and in desert often lie hidden

important fossils.

That is an appealing narrative of

sediment-perhaps, but one occluding an important fact:


to the true nomad there is no desert." (TRG 1992:19).


'~eleuze and Guattari assert thst " [tlhe strata

are judgements of God (but the earth[...]constantly eludes

that judgement) (1987:40). Stratification is a royal

process of capture that arranges disparate parts into

long-range, large-scale orders of solidity, and these strata

are always subject to a nomad process of rupture which

deranges disparate parts into short-range, small-scale

orders of fluidity.

Such "deterritorializationl' not only

generates a new stratum at another level, but also modulates

its own stratum within its level.

"~c~af fery implies that paleosexual ity provides

an allegory for an epidemic of accidental coincidence--a

breakdown of postmodern chronology.

Seismological events

recombine fossils, producing anomalous conjugations of

different ternporalities: "[e]arthquakes[ ...)sre nothing

other than a fossil orgasm recorded upon the chronometric

grid of human catastrophe" (1981:4). The act of

fossilization merely offers a conceit for postmodern

simulation--the substitution of images for things within a

system of synchronistic disappearance.

I1~ccaffery suggests that fossilization is simply

a cipher for dissimulation--a hypothesis that calls to mind

Borges, who observes that, to a zoologist like Gosse, a

divinity may have constructed evidence for an infinite past

that appears to have preceded the moment of creation, but

that has never really occurred as an aspect of creation, so


that, while the evidence of dinosaurs might exist, dinosaurs

themselves have never existed (1964:24).

Such a theory of

the as if implies that humanity might have appeared only a

few moments ago with implanted mernories of a fake past.

I2~evdney suggests that Canada suffers from "a

fear of intelligence based on the notion of s dichotomy

between the heart and the head as if intelligence had no

heart, therefore to have heart you have to be dumb"

(1990:88). Dewdney repeats the romantic redaction of piety,

but without the romantic suspicion of reason. He suggests

that an apoetic vision of nature only increases the figura1

appeal of nature.

The text synthesizes this binary

opposition by making the scientific seem romantic, while

rnaking the romantic seem scientif ic.

l3~ewdney almost evokes the theories of Foucault,

who argues that natural history is a quotidian discourse

that attempts to decompose, then recompose, its own



" [ i ] t leaps over the everyday vocabulary that

provides it with its immediate ground, and beyond that

ground it searches for that which could have constituted its

raison d'être; but, inversely, it resides in its entirety in

the area of language, since it is essentially a concerted

use of names and since its ultimate aim is to give things

their true denomination" (1973: 161 ).

"~he Governor represents a restricted econorny of

function and utility (the prosaic boredom of habit and

clichk). The Parasite represents a generalized economy of

dysfunction and inutility (the poetic freedom of crime and

flair). A parasite signifies the entropy of a system, the

noise that depletes the information from its own scale of

order, but that nevertheless augments the information of a

another scale of order. A poet disrupts communication, not

simply to break it down, but to make it more complex--to

accentuate the potential for both anomaly and novelty.

15~ewdney suggests that natural history bears

witness to a supernal grandeur.

Eech book, for example,

details the account of a citizen who has lived through a

tornado: "a primal, sacred experience of[ ...] random

violencew--but "a cruelty without malice derived from an

impartiality at the kart of nature" (1991:43). Al1 such

catastrophes represent the manifestation of alterity itself

--the otherness that underlies the hidden agenda of events:

"that which is most completely out of control most clearly

reveals the workings of the unseen machinations" (1982:64).


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